When was the last time you got taken to task by a parent, and you knew right away they were right?

A few weeks ago, when I had a brief, but longer-than-it-should-have-been cancer scare, I didn’t tell anyone until it was over. I didn’t really know how, and I didn’t really want to share until I knew something concrete.

That makes me a hypocrite.


My family has a history of not sharing medical stuff in the name of “protecting” our family members. The earliest example I can remember was my family not telling my brother about my grandmother’s death until he returned from summer camp. It was a really cool camp – he was sailing around the Caribbean checking out uninhabited islands, and my parents didn’t want to ruin it.

I get that, but he was really angry at my parents over it. I think he felt like they had robbed him of the decision to attend the ritual grieving process, which can be a comfort when you lose a loved one.

A few years later, I found myself in the hospital the weekend before I graduated from college. It wasn’t a huge deal. I think I just needed a quick saline rehydration, which happened a couple times a year back then. I didn’t want to worry my parents, and since they would be there in a few days, I figured I would tell them then. I didn’t realize that I had literally talked to them every day for the previous four years, so they caught me when this was the first time I didn’t. They were not impressed.

The next time it happened was all on my dad. He had to have knee surgery and didn’t say anything until afterward. This time it was my turn to read the riot act.

I have a friend who does it, too. He’s had surgery and not said anything until it was over. He did a little better this year, but I suspect he only told me early because he needed help with his insurance.

It’s a pattern.

We patients tend to do this a lot, I think. It’s part of the minimizing we do around our conditions.

Plus we think we are protecting our loved ones from unpleasant news and the “bad” feelings that come with it – sadness, fear, anxiety. My dad has a word for this: infantilizing. I hate the word, but it might just apply here. The patient is basically making the decision for her loved ones about what they are allowed to know and what they are allowed to feel. That’s not fair. They are grown-ups. We do them a disservice when we take away their choice to support and comfort us. Even in situations like my latest one, where it was a question of a difficult wait, and not a new medical problem, it probably would have been much easier on me if I had had someone to vent and commiserate with.

I’m not a big rules person, but it might be appropriate to set a new family rule: no keeping difficult medical issues under wraps. You don’t have to broadcast it, but maybe selecting a few of your nearest and dearest to share the burden wouldn’t go amiss. After all, you would do it for them in a heartbeat.