I want to do this alone, is this unusual?

You’ve been diagnosed with cancer and don’t want to share the news with anybody, not even those closest to you. Or maybe you are willing to share the news, but you see the management of your treatment as yours only to handle. Is this unusual? No, not at all.


Unfortunately, a diagnosis such as this one can rarely be kept a secret or done alone, although it’s an utmost personal journey that teaches you to rely on yourself, to be responsible for taking your medicine, and to decide to live and survive. 

Finding the best way to stay in control and do this alone (or allowing as few people as possible into your space) will need some fine footwork. There could be many reasons for your decision, and you should gear yourself for many different reactions to your decision. 

Life happens to all of us, and whatever you’ve experienced in life, could have influenced your decision to travel this road on your own. But, let us first take stock of how many people are already travelling with you despite your decision to do this alone:

  • Your doctor(s);
  • Nursing staff working with the doctor;
  • The receptionist in the doctor’s rooms (although she may not know the detail, she knows that you will need more appointments – and she is your connection with the doctor);
  • The case manager at your medical aid.

These are the people whom you have met after your diagnosis. Those that do not know what gives you pleasure in life and what upsets you. Those that do not know what your favourite food is or how important your time in the gym is nor the roles that you have to fulfill each day. 

Why don’t you want to share the news?

To answer the title question, I think it’s important that you think clearly about the reason for not wanting to share the news. Although, this might be an emotional challenge if you’ve received the diagnosis just recently. Your mind may still be running in circles, contemplating your next step, and trying to make sense of this unthinkable thing that has happened to you. It will, however, help in your decision (to be on your own through your cancer journey) if you can answer the following questions for yourself. To do this, find a quiet place where you can work undisturbed. Keep a pen and notebook handy to assist you:

  • Do you have bad memories of other people who were diagnosed with cancer and is this influencing your decision?
  • The things people say can be very scary. Are you afraid of people’s reactions, such as to be pitied by them? Or to hear that “You’ll be okay”; “It’s not so bad”; “You are a strong person”; “You can do it!”; “When I was diagnosed…”? 
  • Do you want to spare other people’s feelings by not involving them? 
  • Are you worried that you may lose your dignity if too many people know your journey?

Trust your answers to lead you in your decision about doing it alone, or who to include and who not. And then, be comfortable with your decision. 

The following survival tips may just come in handy:

  • Be honest with yourself. Know what restores and sustains your hopes, your rest, and your peace.
  • Manage your own emotions first. Remember that this journey is a physical, spiritual, emotional and social journey of which you don’t know the destination. This is a chapter in your life, one that you can’t ignore, but which you can reread one day with awe and gratitude.
  • People usually don’t know what to say when they learn of your diagnosis. This may be the last thing you want to hear, but you will have to open or close the door for conversation so that people will know and understand your needs. 

A cancer diagnosis quite often makes you powerless and voiceless. But it often is a good teacher. May your decision to walk alone or to include other people who care for you, be your companion along this journey.

Dr Nelia Drenth is a palliative care social worker in private practice in 
Pretoria, Gauteng. She presents workshops on psychosocial palliative care 
and bereavement counselling and has a passion for social work in healthcare.

MEET OUR EXPERT – Dr Nelia Drenth

Dr Nelia Drenth is a palliative care social worker in private practice in Pretoria, Gauteng. She presents workshops on psychosocial palliative care and bereavement counselling and has a passion for social work in healthcare.


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