I want to start by saying I’m thankful I’m not spending countless hours receiving chemotherapy in an infusion room or suffering its ill effects.  Believe me, I know how lucky I am to have walked away with “only” a bilateral mastectomy with Tamoxifen everyday.  I know it easily could have been worse and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly where I find myself one day after all… You know, because of the whole No Cure thing.

Anyway, I’m not complaining.  Not by a long shot, but this post is about a new dilemma I’m faced with simply because, like it or not, breast cancer is a big part of my day.  Not in the same way those enduring treatment see it, or when I was freshly diagnosed, but it’s there all the same.

I blog about it.

I still see my oncologist and breast surgeon every four months and I kind of like it.

I still attend a support group.

I check in daily with our online breast cancer community and care about the people I’ve virtually met there.

And just a few minutes ago, I found myself on the phone scheduling nipple tattoos, (Who says that?) looking forward to yet another fun time with my plastic surgeon.  And by the way, don’t you think calling on a plastic surgeon to tattoo anything is a little beneath them?  It seems like something an assistant should do, maybe an intern, leaving the surgeon free to focus on more interesting and challenging work…face lifts, nose jobs, reconstruction.  But…I digress.

Saying I’m finished with breast cancer because my expanders are out and my implants in, is quite the understatement.  It never ends.  I used to think there was a finish line, but I’m no longer sure.

So, with all this cancer stuff in my everyday life, I’m treading carefully on a new friendship with someone who has no idea what happened.  How do I tell?  Or do I?  It almost feels deceitful not to, in a way.  As if I’m leaving out a large piece of who I am these days.  But, how do you approach the subject with someone who doesn’t have a clue?

And maybe the bigger question is, why is it such a secret?

My story is by no means secret.  I’ll discuss it with anyone who’ll listen.  I’ll write about it. I’ve even spoken to the occasional reporter and let them write about it, with my last name and town included.  So, why is it so hard to own up with someone who’s new to the party?

Perhaps it has to do with protecting my young children from words they may not understand, such as cancer.  Not knowing who might say what and having it get to my boys before I’m ready or believe they’re ready to truly understand what it meant for me to have breast cancer.  It’s a conversation I’ll have with them one day, but on my terms, when I believe it’s time.

I’ve got no problem volunteering the words, “Me too!” in a breast cancer conversation someone else started, allowing me to connect with other knowing, breast cancer women, but when standing alone with nothing but my diagnosis to offer someone who hasn’t lived it, I stumble.

Maybe, it’s fear of the person’s reaction.  Having already been spurned by one so-called friend, why risk it again? Although, I know if they can’t deal, the problem is theirs, not mine.  I still have to admit there’s a lingering stigma associated with the disease and I’m suffering from it.  Otherwise, why would I care what people think?  But, if they suddenly see me as a sick person, I have to care.  How someone views my health is very personal.

How can something I deal with so publicly, still feel so private?

I keep going over this in my head.  I’m not looking to gain support or understanding or anything by telling.  I’m not asking for anything.  I just want to share something that matters a whole lot to me, an experience I had that changed what I deem valuable in my life.

How do I not share that with a friend, but still…I hesitate.  

There’s a great discussion on my Facebook page about this topic.  It seems many of us find ourselves in this or similar situations with no clear answer.  I guess telling someone new is like a leap of faith.  We just let go, jump in and hope for the best.

If the topic doesn’t come up, how do you tell a new friend you have breast cancer or do you?

11 thoughts on “Disclosure

  1. This is a great question! I have a whole post idea about why I don't tell people I've had breast cancer. (Maybe I'll actually write it someday!) Imagine how I felt when I started dating after breast cancer…how and when do you tell a guy you lost a breast? That problem cost me a lot of sleep!


  2. Well, like Ginny Marie alluded to above, at least you're not dating now! I can't imagine what that must be like post-cancer/mastectomy/accompanying baggage. I've been thinking about this question since you brought it up and I guess I'd just say go with whatever feels right. Tell your new friend when you feel the time is right. Personally, I can't imagine not telling a friend, new or old, about my cancer. It's part of who I am now. But some people don't tell and that's right for them. You can always give it a bit more time and see what happens. Most importantly I'd like to say, anyone would be lucky to have you as a friend, Stacy. Good luck and keep us posted. And yes, the tattooing thing is a bit surreal all the way around…


  3. This is such a good question, and you have expressed the dilemma beautifully. This is something I come up against quite often in the context of living overseas where the community is quite transient.It has inspired a lot of thinking and I feel it might find itself taking the shape of a blog post.Thank you for such a thought provoking post.Philippa


  4. Hi Ginny, no, I can't imagine dating after mastectomy. That seems like a cruel joke that never ends. I'd say you did just fine, though. Your husband must be one special guy. I hope you write that post one day!Hi Ashley! Thank you.Hi Nancy, Thank you for the compliment. I feel fortunate to have you and our blogging friends to turn to. It's easy when we know someone will understand. Starting from scratch with someone that may not…is a very different story. It's interesting, but now that I've written about it, I'm in less of a hurry to share so quickly. I think I will take some more time and see how it plays out.Hi Philippa, thanks for your comments on this. Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in my own head, I forget other people have different perspectives about the same topic. I look forward to reading yours.


  5. Oh I totally understand this one. I still struggle with talking about it with the people close to me who *don't* ask how I am doing. (I look well so I must be well.)I have told complete strangers but not people I know who \”don't know.\”I could use some pointers!-Renn


  6. This is such a tough issue, and the way we each deal with it covers the entire spectrum.I've been pretty public about it at work (largely because I work in healthcare & I figure these folks need awareness whether they want it or not!!), but in the rest of my life, I find it's more of a choice of context. I do think we can have different kinds of friends in different kinds of contexts. Every friendship we have does not necessarily involve the same kind of rapport or shared confidences. Especially with new friends, I think you just have to feel your way along and figure out what kind of friendship you are forging & what you want from it. But I do think if I was making a new friend with whom I really shared meaningful confidences, I would find it hard not to talk about cancer, because it continues to have such an impact on my daily life, my energy, my choices, I don't know how I would even be able to talk about some of the everyday decisions I have to make without explaining that breast cancer impacts those decisions. But I have art friends, whom I meet only in galleries or at juried art shows that I would probably not ever think of discussing cancer with, because it's just not relevant.Food for thought. The fact that we are having this discussion here says a lot, I think, about the lack of public awareness of cancer & its reality, and the fear & misunderstanding that still surrounds it.xxxxxxP.S. And how crazy it is anyway to have to talk about nipple tattoos?? That may be something only 'we' can really comprehend!!


  7. Sigh. Stacey this is a lovely post and raises so many issues that I too have thought about. I think now – and I'm nearly five years since diagnosis – I feel that it's too big a part of my life not to tell people, and if they're not comfortable then they're not going to stay in my life. Tough but true. I can accept that now.Interestingly, nipple tattoos have been in discussion round here as I've just had my surgery for nipple reconstruction….. I'm hoping to not have a tattoo as I had skin from my thigh to create an areola (wow)… but the option is there. I think you are really lucky that your surgeon does the tattoo himself… mine doesn't and that's part of the reason I'm reluctant – I get very sensitive about who gets to 'work' on my hard gained reconstructed breast!All best with the next stage and look forward to hearing about it if you want to share.Sarah


  8. Stacey,I totally get it. This posting really speaks to me because I have lost friends over the disclosure, but to my pleasant surprise, I also have found that more people are interested in my story and don't reject me.When you are ready and willing to tell, feel free to do so. If she rejects you, she never was a true friend, but you might be pleasantly surprised.Oh, and I've been through the \”upper crust\” tatoo parlor of the plastic surgeon's territory. I actually had a say in the color of my nipples. Good luck with this possible disclosure. I know exactly what you mean about being a public figure in the world of breast cancer and yet having a secret you are nervous to reveal.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s