Dear Abby: The case for, against keeping your cancer secret

SHARE Dear Abby: The case for, against keeping your cancer secret

DEAR ABBY: I’m writing in response to the man who wants to keep his cancer prognosis secret until he nears the end (“Keeping It to Myself,” Jan. 11).

My mother was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer that had spread to her brain. Her dizziness is how we found out. She didn’t want to tell anyone for a while (which surprised me because she had always been a drama queen and a hypochondriac), but she ended up telling.

It was the best thing she could have done. The four of us kids were there with her through her treatments, she became much closer to the sister she had spent decades hating and she found out who her true friends were.

Mom lived four years, until she finally passed in 2006. It’s still raw for me. But I’m grateful for the time we had to get closer and share our lives.


Husband very upset about his ex’s cancer

Unhappy cancer patient looking forward to death

Forward thinking helps a terminal cancer patient

I hope “Keeping” takes your advice and tells his friends. If he does, he may find these hard times to be some of the “best” times. That’s what my mom said. — CLAUDIA IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR CLAUDIA: Thank you for sharing. I opened the question to my readers, and like you, most — but not all — agreed with my answer. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: As a former cancer patient and licensed therapist, I’d urge “Keeping” not to share that information if he doesn’t want to.

Truth is, not all people who hear the news will be supportive. Some will avoid him, some will pity him, and others will say amazingly inappropriate and unhelpful things. A prognosis of two years is a long time for people to react to him — and for him to handle their reactions.

I found it stressful to cope with the emotions of others as they reacted to my situation. Until “Keeping” is ready, he should be cautious about with whom he shares his diagnosis. — LYN IN NEW YORK

DEAR ABBY: After chemo and clinical trials failed to contain my husband’s cancer, he was told he had less than a year to live. We had already shared the initial prognosis with family and friends.

Loved ones from near and far have visited him, called and emailed. Their visits have done more for his quality of life than any drug, and have probably extended it.

He has also made once-in-a-lifetime trips this past year with siblings, which would not have happened if we had waited to disclose his prognosis. Our adult children and grandchildren have spent more time with us and have become more loving and tolerant of each other.

“Keeping’s” next two years are a blessing and a gift. I hope he uses every moment wisely. — DEBRA IN TEXAS

DEAR ABBY: I was in the same situation and, for me, it was not even a choice. I felt I had to tell everyone in our circle. The result was a warm outpouring of support and concern, even from neighbors we barely knew, which particularly helped my wife.

I have been very fortunate. My new treatment worked, I am now in remission, and we no longer need day-to-day support.

But we have wonderful memories of people who were eager to help. We have established deeper friendships and the experience has made US more generous, too. — MIKE IN OREGON

DEAR ABBY: Your advice was spot-on. My mother was in stage 4 pancreatic cancer and refused to let me tell anyone, even her siblings.

When she died, it was my responsibility to spread the news, only to be berated by everyone who loved her. Relatives and close neighbors were devastated that they hadn’t been able to have a final visit or the chance to prepare themselves for the loss. — LISA IN CALIFORNIA 

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in “What Every Teen Should Know.” Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds), to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)

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