If you had terminal cancer, would you keep it a secret?

This is prompted by David Bowie’s death.

A friend of mine died from throat cancer a couple months ago. He was 49 years old. I never knew; I found out after he died via a FB post from his wife. As far as I can tell, the only people who knew were his immediate family.

Another friend of mine lives in Colorado, and she was recently diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. (And she has never smoked.) She’s is telling the world about it via FB - virtually every post is a meme about lung cancer. There are lots of posts of sympathy from her friends on a daily basis. She’s had T-shirts made up, and a couple months ago someone hosted a benefit concert for her.

I am guessing my friend who died of throat cancer didn’t want to burden anyone else with what he was going through. And I can definitely respect that.

While I certainly feel for my friend who has lung cancer, something just doesn’t “set right” with me on how she’s handing it.

If I were dying of cancer, I would probably keep it a secret from my friends and extended family. I don’t like attention, and I don’t want to burden anyone else with what I would be going through.

I’m trying to cut a middle path there.

I’ve made announcements on various social media (including this message board, in the form of an Ask The…) just because I figure my friends deserve to know the truth. When people ask about it, or ask me how I’m doing, I give them an honest answer. But I don’t talk about it much unless someone asks or the subject is relevant, and I try to minimize the attention/sympathy from folks as much as possible, because it makes me uncomfortable to be the center of attention. I try to be as matter-of-fact about it as I can.

In other words, I have cancer that is 85% likely to kill me in the next couple years, it’s part of what’s going on with me nowadays just as much as what I’m doing this weekend or what I’ve been reading or what song is running through my head, and I neither hide it nor make a big deal about it.

David Jones / Bowie didn’t keep it a secret - his family, friends, even the people who made the last video knew.

Neither of my parents told me about theirs (my father had his prostate out and is healthy now, and mom didn’t even get hers diagnosed, and died) but of course they had each other to tell, and only each other. I don’t have a spouse. I would like to think I would keep it to myself because I wouldn’t get it treated but both of those hypotheticals could crash and burn if it became a reality.

I’d want to keep it secret because I wouldn’t want people bothering me.

Social support is beneficial for virtually everyone. I would definitely not keep it a secret.

I’ve been an open book about almost everything my whole life, so I doubt this would be any different. Besides, like Brynda says, the social support would be very beneficial helping me deal with it, as well as another step towards demystifying (or destigmatizing) it for others.

I wouldn’t tell most people because I don’t like being the center of attention and would find it exhausting dealing with all the maudlin visitors asking how I’m doing. If I’m terminal, I want my last days to be as enjoyable as possible. To me, that means being surrounded by normal-acting people having normal fun. I’m sure those I left behind might feel slighted by my sudden departure, but they’ll have years to get over it.

There’s people I’d tell and people I wouldn’t, and the circle would get bigger as time went on.

Let’s say I find out as I’m in the middle of a project.
Is the cancer likely to kill me before we’re done? Can I start treatment in an unobstrusive way?
If the answers are “no” and “yes”, then I tell the team I’m seeing doctors but I don’t give more details. I want to finish the job, not distract everybody fretting about something they can’t fix.

My brothers and my mother knew Dad had cancer. They knew it had been declared cured. And came back. And been declared cured. And came back. And this is when I asked a question which made the doctors realize they’d been misdiagnosing it and therefore looked at the wrong indicators when they declared it cured :smack: - the lung cancer wasn’t the primary, it was metastatical from the pleural sac (the “waterbag” shielding the lungs). My mother hadn’t accepted Dad was dying until within 6h of the actual TOD; both of my brothers managed to be surprised (one still lived in the house, the other had until three months before). At least my SiL wasn’t surprised - halleluja, the doctor did understand… somewhat, she still insists that it was lung cancer from smoking and not mesothelioma from asbestos (which btw is the same type that’s killed Dad’s sister and their older brother: the smokers did not die from lung cancer and the alcoholic didn’t get killed by cirrhosis). The local protocols regarding cancer diagnosis got updated after that little question, from assuming that lung cancer would always be primary to making sure.

A week after his retirement as a GP and terror of lesser doctors, Dad’s uncle Julio walked into the office of the local hospital’s Chief of Oncology (the hospital is also a medical school and a very important research center). “Oh hello Don Julio, but what are you doing here, you’re retired now! Missing the job already? :D”
“I’m coming to tell you I have liver cancer, which as you know is incurable. I’ve got six months to live.”
:confused::eek:Uh, well, we cannot be sure until we’ve run some tests and…”
“Do you remember a patient whose plaques I asked you about, a José Javier Martínez?”
“José Javier Martínez my left buttcheek, those were my plaques. So don’t come sugarcoating now, you’re three months late. I’m here to tell you that if there’s any trials you’re running that I can be helpful for I’ll take part, but if you try to make me last longer just so I’ll look better in your statistics I’ll come back from the grave just to make your life impossible.”
He contacted the family that same day, once they’d set up the treatment protocols.

I would tell my immediate family and ask them not to broadcast it any more than possible. I wouldn’t tell that, and I certainly wouldn’t post it on facebook.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I’d keep it secret from my family as long as possible.

I might also disappear somewhere toward the end, wandering off into the desert rather than die in a hospice. Dunno if I have the courage, however.

I had/have a possible cancer condition that may probably amount to nothing. Sketchy blood work that’s lead to two negative biopsies over two years, and I’m continuing to follow up.

Until and unless I have a diagnosis: no, I won’t inform anyone close to me, lest they worry needlessly.

I’ve thought about this, and I think I would probably tell my wife, my boss, and my siblings. I wouldn’t try to keep it secret, but I don’t think I would personally be public with it, either.