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Leukemia and Relationships: Revealing Your Diagnosis

Posted on May 12, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Amy Isler, RN

Revealing your leukemia diagnosis to the people in your life can be stressful and produce a lot of anxiety. Being honest with your loved ones can give them the chance to be supportive while providing you a safe place to express your feelings of vulnerability and complex emotions. By being honest with your loved ones, you also give them a chance to plan should your condition worsen.

A MyLeukemiaTeam member shared their experiences telling their family about their diagnosis. “It makes a big difference when you have support and compassion on this journey. It really is one day at a time.”

Figuring out how to manage both your new and existing personal and professional relationships can be scary, but there are a lot of support groups, resources, and health care experts to help you along the way.

As you learn about your diagnosis and treatment options, be patient with yourself and take the time to feel all the emotions. No matter what the feeling is, give yourself permission to experience it.

Tips for Telling Your Friends and Family

Deciding when, where, and to whom to reveal your leukemia diagnosis can be overwhelming. The American Cancer Society offers some great tips on how to incorporate your friends and family members into your cancer journey so you can get the support that you need and some help with relieving your burden.

Appoint a Spokesperson

Designate a friend or family member as your health-status point of contact to allow yourself to focus on treatment. This can be a helpful strategy if you’d prefer not to receive lots questions about your health or treatment.

You may also want your spokesperson to inform certain family and friends you don’t wish to tell yourself. Make a list so your spokesperson can take that off your plate.

Communicate in Writing

Websites like CaringBridge are great for keeping your friends and family updated on your cancer journey through journal posts. You may prefer this option to appointing a spokesperson. Alternatively, your spokesperson can use a website like CaringBridge or email to communicate on your behalf.

Think of Ways People Can Help

When loved ones and friends first learn of your diagnosis, they may offer to help. You may hear comments like, “Let me know what I can do.” It can be helpful to plan an answer to that question ahead of time.

Practical tasks you can request help with include:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Preparing or ordering meals
  • Getting a ride to appointments
  • Getting help transporting children to school or activities
  • Cleaning or paying for a cleaner
  • Doing laundry or paying for a laundry service
  • Advocating for you in the health care setting

Talking With Children

Children often sense that something is wrong and may blame themselves for what is happening if they are kept in the dark. Being honest in an age-appropriate way allows children to express their feelings and to understand yours.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offers some great tips on how to disclose your diagnosis to children.

  • Use age-appropriate words and ideas.
  • Use the children’s direct questions as a conversation guide.
  • Encourage them to share what they are feeling.
  • Have them help out around the house and do age-appropriate chores.
  • Remind them how much you love them.

If you think a child needs additional support to cope with a loved one’s leukemia diagnosis, you may consider one of several resources that may help. It is always good to have a third party to talk to on the days that you need extra encouragement.

Dating and New Relationships

A cancer diagnosis shouldn’t stop you from enjoying an active social life, including dating and embarking on new relationships. As long as you are feeling good both mentally and physically, engaging with others can be very rewarding and therapeutic.

Some things to think about in regard to dating and relationships include:

  • Are you ready to date?
  • What activities would you most enjoy that offer opportunities to socialize?
  • Are you in an open and positive state of mind where you can date without constant fear of rejection?
  • Do you know what you do and don’t want to tell a prospective partner about your diagnosis?
  • Do you have a good support network?

Pursuing relationships with others who also have cancer can relieve the pressure of revealing your diagnosis and sharing your story. There are some dating apps specifically for people with cancer seeking a romantic connection, including CancerMatch and Cancer Dating Service.

No matter what your relationship status is, just know that there are options and resources available to you to make the transition less painful — and maybe even a little fun.

Tips for Telling Your Employer

If you are employed during your cancer diagnosis and treatment, deciding when to tell your boss or employer can be complicated. If you think that your diagnosis will impede your attendance or job performance, it is important to tell your employer or the human resources department so they can offer you assistance and support.

There are several job protections and resources that can assist you through your cancer journey, including:

  • The Family Medical Leave Act — This law entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, without losing their health insurance.
  • The Federal Rehabilitation Act — This legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted or funded by the federal government.
  • The Americans With Disabilities Act — This civil-rights law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs.

Depending on your comfort level and your relationship with your coworkers, you may find it beneficial to be honest about your diagnosis with the people you work with so they can support you.

You’re Not Alone

Are you struggling with how to tell friends and family about your diagnosis? You can find support at MyLeukemiaTeam, where more than 8,200 people with different types of leukemia gather to share advice and talk about their own experiences living with this disease.

Share your experience in the comments below or on MyLeukemiaTeam. Your story may help others.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Amy Isler, RN is a registered nurse with over six years of experience as a credentialed school nurse. Learn more about her here.

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