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How Do I Tell My Family About My CML Diagnosis?

Medically reviewed by Christina Chun, MPH on March 28, 2017Written by Ashley Marcin on March 28, 2017

If you’ve recently received a diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), you may be wondering how to break the news to your family. CML is believed to be a genetic disease, which may add extra anxiety about informing your family members. Here are some tips on how to approach your loved ones and talk openly about your diagnosis.

Talk to yourself first

You may still be processing information about the cancer diagnosis yourself. Before you tell others about your condition, take some time to get in tune with your own feelings. You may be thinking, “Why me?” or going through a range of emotions from sadness to anger to fear. Give yourself permission to feel it all. Understand also that there are different physical and chemical changes you may experience during treatment that may affect your emotions.

Decide who you will tell

After you’ve given yourself some time to think, decide who you will tell in your family and how. You may want to start with certain people before telling everyone. You could also decide to tell some people in person and some over the phone.

Consider making a list of the people you want to tell and jotting down any notes.

It’s also important to understand that you don’t have to tell absolutely everyone in your family — at least not right away. Start with your most trusted loved ones and go from there.

Expect emotions

Just as you felt a range of emotions when you received the diagnosis, the people in your life will also likely have strong feelings. Dealing with the emotions of others on top on your own may feel overwhelming at times. There’s no right or wrong way to feel, and sometimes people don’t quite know how to react to the news that their loved one is sick.

Some people with CML choose to present the information in a positive way to combat some of the more negative emotions. Others use humor to keep things light when they are talking about their illness. In some cases, you may be able to help defuse some of the intensity by explaining how leukemia is a treatable cancer. Consider what you know about the people you’re informing to help you respond to their reactions.

Also give your family members permission to share their feelings. Or if you’re not quite ready to hear everything they may say, save this type of conversation for another time.

Open up

You might be wondering where to begin. It’s may be best to lead with your own thoughts and feelings on the matter. In fact, it’s healthy for you to share your feelings with others. Let your family know if you feel depressed, anxious, or angry. Yes, getting this intimate can be incredibly difficult and leave you feeling vulnerable, but it could help you process the situation.

You may want to simply start by explaining what type of cancer you have, what kinds of treatments you may be undergoing, and what your outlook is at this time. If you’re having a lot of trouble talking, you might consider finding a local support group or mental health counselor to help you cope with your own feelings or your family members deal with theirs.

Tell your children

If you have children, you likely already know that telling them may take some extra attention depending on how old they are. Of course, you’re under tremendous stress dealing with your own feelings and thoughts of treatment. Still, kids pick up a lot through observing their parents. Try your best to keep calm while you explain the situation.

Your kids may also react differently depending on their own experiences with people who’ve had cancer. If a person they knew had cancer and died, they may have a more severe reaction to the news than if that person had recovered.

Give directions for more info

Instead of rehashing the details of your illness again and again, you may want to come up with some resources. That way, you can give your family members a place to go if they would like more information on what you’re going through or will be doing during treatment.

Helpful websites include:

Because CML does have a genetic component, your family members may worry that they’re at risk of getting cancer as well. You can explain that sometimes people do inherit mutations in DNA from parents, for example. It can increase their risk of getting certain cancers. At the same time, inherited mutations don’t cause CML. These changes happen during a person’s lifetime.

If your loved ones still have questions, you may consider referring them to their doctor for a checkup or even to a support group. The National Cancer Institute provides support for family and caregivers, and so does the Cancer Support Community.

Be prepared for different comments

Some people won’t know what to say after you tell them you have CML. They could tell you things intended to make you feel better. Often, such comments have the opposite effect. If someone in your family keeps trying to cheer you up, but you prefer them not to, gently ask that person to listen to your thoughts without judgement.

Other times, you’ll likely hear unsolicited stories about a friend of a friend who had cancer with a certain outcome. You may not know how to politely stop them. Consider saying something like “Thank you for sharing, but today I need to focus on something else besides my cancer.”

Through the responses you get, you may be able to pick out who will be a better support to you in the days and months to come.

The takeaway: Sharing helps you too

Telling your family members about your diagnosis can ultimately help you. They can be great supports to you during your cancer treatment. You don’t need to go through CML alone. Telling others helps to ease your personal burden. The people around you have their own unique strengths that they can put to use for you as well. Start now by surrounding yourself with a network of people who’ll help lift you up when the going gets tough.

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