announcing it to loved ones, another ordeal for cancer patients

Posted byadmin Posted onApril 2, 2024 Comments0
announcing it to loved ones, another ordeal for cancer patients

Like Princess Kate Middleton, who revealed her cancer in a video published Friday March 22, more than 430,000 French people have to announce a similar diagnosis to their loved ones each year. Patients tell how they managed to get through this additional ordeal.

“Dad, mom, sit down, I have something to tell you.” Aurélie remembers this phone call “as if it were yesterday”. Just after learning she had gynecological cancer, at the age of 39, she informed her parents of the diagnosis.

“From the dramatic tone I took on the line, they understood immediately,” recalls this woman, now 43 years old. “I didn't have to say the word 'cancer', I just said the results weren't good. On the phone, my mother completely collapsed.”

“She started screaming and still today her cry resonates in me, while my father has remained in deep silence since that day.”

Learning of the diagnosis was “a huge shock, and William and I did everything we could to absorb and manage privately, for the well-being of our young family,” Kate Middleton explained at the time of her public announcement. In the same way, Aurélie remembers a “cold shower”.

“A tipping point”

“I was overwhelmed by a billion questions, and I myself was not yet in the fight, I barely realized,” she confides five years later. In this context, she did not feel “yet equipped” to manage “the emotions of others”. She was able, “luckily” she says, to count on her aunt, who had been affected by cancer in the past. She was the one who took over to accompany her parents, with whom she was at the time of the announcement.

“The announcement to loved ones is always a pivotal moment, a tipping point among the different stages of the disease,” explains Isabelle Huet, president of Rose Up, an association which supports women with cancer.

“We must keep in mind that there is no method to go about it well, nor just one way of saying things,” she insists. “It will depend on the character of each person. But it is a moment which generally remains engraved.”

Indeed, four years later, it is impossible for Emma to forget this sunny morning during which she arrived at her mother's house to tell her that she had breast cancer.

“All my life I will keep this image of her, serene and all smiles, having a peaceful lunch in the sun in her garden,” she says. “My heart was beating a hundred miles an hour, I wondered how I was going to tell him and what words I was going to have to use. I knew that the moment I said the word, nothing would be the same again. “

“We bring back the idea of ​​death”

“I finally started crying and dropped the bomb as soon as she asked me if I was okay,” recalls Emma, ​​now 37 years old. “As if I wanted to yank the bandage off to get rid of it.” “That's not true!?”, his mother first replies, totally disconcerted, before coming to her senses to take on the role of matriarch. “We’ll get there, we’re a family,” she finally tells him.

A posture of support and accompaniment which is not always easy to adopt for loved ones, who can also sink into despair. “Everyone is not made of the same stone and we do not all experience it in the same way,” recognizes Emma who, like most patients, has been confronted with multiple reactions.

Especially once family and close friends know, the task doesn't stop there. What follows is a succession of announcements to the employer, administrative services or even more distant acquaintances. “It’s a shock to everyone,” attempts to analyze this former graphic designer, who is currently resuming her studies in the medical field.

“The word ‘cancer’ has something deadly about it,” she tries to analyze. Whether we like it or not, we bring back to people the idea of ​​death and no one is prepared for that.”

“Some will be in avoidance, others in panic or catastrophism, still others will be curious,” she summarizes. You must constantly take a different posture depending on the person you are talking to.”

Emma says, for example, that she was forced to “shake” her father a little, who was depressed at the time. “I took it between four eyes to boost it,” she remembers. “At least tell him that I needed him there and ask him if I could count on him, because I couldn't let myself get down.”

“Additional pressure”

Faced with the sadness of their loved ones, patients sometimes feel obliged to show a confident and optimistic face, even when their morale is at its lowest. “We see that the women we support take a lot on themselves to try not to worry their family or friends,” explains Isabelle Huet of Rose Up. “It ultimately puts additional pressure on their shoulders.”

In July 2023, Cécile was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. But she doesn't really have time to process the news. In the days that followed, the 33-year-old young woman remembers having to spend her time reassuring her parents and close friends, who were particularly worried.

“It's very hard because we're not feeling well ourselves but we expect the patient to say that we're fine and that everything is going to be fine, we try to smooth things over because “The announcement is so violent,” she explains.

“I had my own pain to deal with but also that of others,” she summarizes today in hindsight.

If she is tired of hearing ready-made phrases such as “good luck” or “it's going to be okay”, Cécile has also had to face the awkwardness of certain loved ones. “I thought this would be your last Christmas,” said her sister, for example.

Violent comments, but which the thirty-year-old has learned to endure, because she understands that “people are not always equipped” to discuss these subjects. “Many don’t know what to say when they are told something so dramatic.”

This is the reason why a certain number of patients even choose to hide the illness from part of those around them. Emma therefore preferred not to announce her breast cancer to her 91-year-old grandmother.

A way to “preserve” it given its advanced age. She carefully selected the handful of people she wanted to share the news with. “I wanted to experience this in complete privacy and be peaceful in my cocoon, in the combat bubble that I built for myself,” she summarizes.

Verbalize or choose silence

In the same way, Aurélie this time chose not to tell her 74-year-old parents that her ovarian cancer had recurred last January. “I know they are anxious by nature and I don’t want to kill them before their time,” she explains. “I definitely don’t want to have to make this announcement to them again, or see the sadness on their faces again.”

For many patients, the question also arises for the little ones. Should we inform them? In the video where she announces that she has cancer, Kate Middleton says she needed “a certain amount of time” to explain “appropriately” to her three children George, Charlotte and Louis that she had cancer. cancer.

“We might be tempted not to say it to preserve them, but we have to talk about it,” assures Karen Kraeuter, clinical psychologist specializing in oncology. According to her, “all studies have shown that it is favorable to say it to your children, regardless of their age, for psychological reasons”, while of course adapting your vocabulary to their age.

“The child is not stupid, he feels things,” confirms Stéphanie, affected by breast cancer. The Belgian teacher and her husband immediately decided to tell their 5-year-old daughter the truth, then to seek help from children's books and a psychologist when it was necessary to tell her more serious things.

“Anyway, when I came home in the evening, she saw that I was crying so there was no point in lying to her,” said the forty-year-old. “We calmly explained to him that I was ill, mentioning a mass in my breast and telling him that it was not normal but that we were not going to leave it there.”

For her part, Aurélie never wanted to “dramatize the thing” with her 4-year-old son, but still wanted to use the word “cancer” in order to name the disease, even if it didn't mean much. -thing for him.” “With him I didn’t make a big solemn announcement because in any case I didn’t have at the beginning all the ins and outs of what was going to happen,” she explains. “So as not to worry him unnecessarily, I did it gradually, at each stage.”

Not one, but several announcements

Because, there is often not just one announcement to make, underlines Isabelle Huet. “It’s in several stages,” she recalls. “Firstly that of the diagnosis, that of the announcement of the treatments which the patient will have to undergo, without mentioning the results of examinations, the potential complications or even possible relapses.”

“It is not easy to manage, as the relatives are often completely helpless and lack keys, especially if this is the first case around them,” she adds. “There is a lot of misunderstanding on both sides and even if he is very well supported, the patient always has the impression of being out of step with the others because no one can really understand what he is going through. “

In all cases, health professionals and patients alike agree that loved ones have a crucial role in supporting the patient. Now in remission, Stéphanie sees all this “as a long-term emotional lift”. “For us sick people, as well as for our loved ones who feel helpless in the face of all this.”

Jeanne Bulant Journalist BFMTV


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