Yesterday, Dr. Mikkaela A Sekeres addressed, "Keeping Cancer a Secret." He was prompted to write the essay after learning that a patient had been keeping his diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome [a pre-cancerous condition] a secret from his grown children and their children.
The patient explained, “'Our son has been away, doing a couple of tours of duty in Afghanistan,” he said. “We were going to tell our daughter, but. …” He paused, trying to find the right words. “It wouldn’t be fair, for her to know, to have this burden, and not him. We were planning on telling them when we’re together over the holiday.'”
Dr. Sekeres offers a few possible reasons, including "'sometimes the one thing that we can control is whom we tell...Some [reasons] are very personal (it’s my body, and what goes on inside it is my business). Some are professional (the screenwriter Nora Ephron kept her myelodysplastic syndrome a secret because she feared that no insurance company would sign off on any movie she tried to make). And some are altruistic (we don’t want others to bear the emotional weight of knowing).'"
His conclusion? "It’s our job, as doctors and nurses, to be deliberate in asking our patients how they will explain their cancer to others, to make sure they understand. Keeping such a diagnosis hushed, a secret from those who love and care for us, is an unfair burden we shouldn’t allow cancer to dictate, too."
Next: Do Healthy Survivors ever keep such secrets?