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Secret Cancer: Some patients choose not to tell

Posted at 9:22 PM, Apr 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-30 00:22:11-04
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - After a cancer diagnosis, some people are outspoken about the disease, trying raise awareness, fundraising, or talking to others about beating it. On the other hand, some patients keep their diagnosis a secret, even from close family and friends. 
 
Dr. Karen Weihs is director of the psychosocial oncology program with Banner University Medical Center in Tucson. She says there are several things that would make someone hesitant to share their diagnosis.
 
Burden is one reason.
 
"It frightens them and they feel like they have had a big change in themselves and they don't want other people to feel the same way they do. Sometimes its just because they are so emotionally distressed by it and imagine [family] will be equally as distressed and their trying to protect their family members from that distress," said Dr. Weihs. 
 
Dr. Weihs speaks to patients having a difficult time after learning about a cancer diagnosis, or need help through the treatment process. 
 
Another reason she says people may not tell a child, a cousin, or a close friend is embarrassment. Embarrassed or angry because they feel like they let themselves get sick. 
 
"There is a stigma in our society for people who are aging or sick, like people who don't want to be around a sick person, sometimes people what to avoid a sick person," said Dr. Weihs. 
 
She says many cancer patients just want to be treated the same before their diagnosis, but have a difficult time telling those around them.
 
"So the problem to be addressed is fear of being rejected. The goal is to be treated like everybody else in the family," she said. 
 
Then there is a fear of abandonment. Dr. Weihs recalled incidents where a patient's spouse left aftter the diagnosis.
 
"Their spouses do not feel capable of going through a cancer treatment with someone that close to them so they run away," she said. 
 
On the other hand, Dr. Weihs says for some people the best approach is to keep things quiet. 
 
"In their social situation the people they would share it with would not be able or willing to provide the support they would be looking for," she said. 
 
Overall, Dr. Weihs says it is beneficial to be able to talk to someone about cancer. If you do not feel like you can talk to family or friends, she says there are plenty of support groups with other patients and social workers. 
 
"Your fear is not surprising, cancer is very scary, and that doesn't mean it has to alter your life or change your relationships," she said.
 
Have you or someone you know felt this way? If so, e-mail me at keaton.thomas@kgun9.com.