I couldn’t say it out loud. So I made a point to tell as many people as possible through emails and letters or by relying on the steady starburst of gossip. I knew I needed to tell my mom and my sister, in person. So the next day I rudely invited myself over to my sister and her husband’s home for dinner. I decided it was better to not give them shocking news and then ask them to drive home.

I made small talk. I played with the cats. I talked on and on about my wedding. I ate dinner. I had a couple drinks. I listened all about her latest cake decorating class… there’s just no good time and no good way to bring up the big C.

My face cringed up as I began to cry, and I gestured to Preston to tell them. “Well,” he began, “Shawna has this… condition.” I immediately snapped up from my crying. What? Condition? I interrupted him right then and told them myself. In that moment of pre-revelation my sister thought: maybe she’s pregnant, while my brother-in-law thought: well she’s either going to tell us she’s an alcoholic or possibly a werewolf.

No, just cancer. And do I really drink that much?

True to her genetics, my sister under-reacted to my news, which felt very calming and reassuring to me. One hysterical person per dinner, please.

My mom was in Turkey when I was diagnosed, and two weeks later we had an almost identical repeat of my revelation dinner with her. And despite being heavily jet-lagged, she too under-reacted. Then she took me shopping the following day.

Once my mom knew, all bets were off. I wasn’t treating my cancer like a secret any longer. I didn’t offer it up without provocation; I dispensed my news on a “need to know” basis. I am fortunate to have a very kind and supportive boss. She is the one person I told at work, and to my surprise, she has been respectful of my privacy… or perhaps just aware of the legal ramifications of sending out a cancer memo to all of my coworkers… or just felt really bad for her new employee crying in her office one random afternoon.

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