The Defining Moment

March 3, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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Like a Snoopy cartoon, the teacher is speaking to you, but it sounds like white noise as your mind comes to grips with–the diagnosis.

The diagnosis becomes a turning point.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief from her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, explains the stages which apply to any life changing event, including the diagnosis of cancer. The stages are not simply about death, but reflect the loss of life as you know it.

1. Denial–refusal, either conscious or unconcious to accept the facts

2. Anger–at self or others

3. Bargaining–compromising with others or a faith system

4. Depression–a period of sadness, fear and regret

5. Acceptance–dealing with the facts

The important thing is not how you move through the stages, but that you continue forward momentum. That momentum is individual, bringing you to a place of coping and to a place of re-evaluation.

Walking out into the sunshine after the defining moment you may be struck with amazement that the world goes on. The clouds continue to aimlessly float by and the birds are still chirping in the trees. Nothing has changed, and yet every single thing has forever changed and will never be the same again.

While diagnosis is a defining moment, only you can decide if and how it will define you.

I have observed a unique phenomenon over the years–patients diagnosed with cancer who make a very personal decision to hide the diagnosis from anyone outside a very select circle of perhaps only one or two people. They generally only reveal the information if it becomes necessary.

I was on the support team of a mail carrier who came to our facility for in-patient treatment. He tooks large chunks of accumulated vacation time for each cycle of his chemo and recovery. This continued for several rounds of chemo, and in the course of my interaction with him he shared that no one at his place of employment knew of his cancer diagnosis. He had not only accepted his diagnosis but he was determined his diagnosis would not define him.

I’ve thought about this often.

Does diagnosis define you? Are you your diagnosis?

Does the world treat you different once they know you have cancer? Do those you once interacted with change as they become unable to cope with your reality? Is it fear of loss or confrontation with their own mortality? Perhaps it is both.

Once the point of acceptance is reached it is your choice how you will deal with the diagnosis. As a caregiver, friend, loved one or family member, I believe it is merely our responsibility to respect that decision.

A final thought. Do you treat you differently? Have your priorities shifted outside of the diagnosis? Once you reached that moment of acceptance how did you begin to see the world around you? Defining moments tend to be the sifters and sorters of life. People and events trickle throught the sieve and everything is re-evaluated.

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11 Responses to “The Defining Moment”
  1. Tina says:

    Good point, Missy.

    It is definitly a personal choice. And I suspect it has to do with where we are in the grief cycle.

  2. Missy Tippens says:

    I have to say that I can see myself keeping a diagnosis private for a while. I remember after having a miscarriage that I wished people at church didn’t know because I didn’t want to go and have them look at me with pity. If fact, I couldn’t bear it and avoided going for a week.

    I’ve noticed that members of our church who’ve just gotten a bad diagnosis or have had a trauma in their lives seem to stay away for a while. I suspect they feel the same way I did.

    When my dad found out he had colon cancer a few years ago, he didn’t tell us for a month–until he had a chance to visit to tell us in person. Again, he dealt with it privately for a while. Different from your experience with your friend, Camy.


  3. Tina says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Camy.

    Since it is a true story I have to tell you I have really thought of it often and wondered at his approach. However I was just reading about on Cancer and it told a cute story of a woman who was diagnosed and immediately called every person in her address book. Her theory was she was NOT going to go through it alone. That made me smile.

  4. Camy Tang says:

    Your story about the mail carrier surprises me, but at the same time I can understand it. On the flip side, a man at my church (the father of one of my teens in the youth group where I’m a staff member) was diagnosed with cancer, and he informed the entire church so people could pray for him. People also rallied around the family and helped out when we could. He’s now in remission, but he said that the community surrounding him helped his spirits during the treatments.

  5. Tina says:

    Oh, Ruth, thank you for being so generous to share what are as you said, mixed memories.

    Sometimes I know for myself, it is comforting to know my thought process is normal.

  6. Ruth Blodgett says:

    Your article brought back a lot of mixed memories of my mother’s cancer diagnosis. If I hadn’t happened into the room when the doctor was giving her test results, I wouldn’t have known about the diagnosis for who knows how long.

    And as a daughter and an adult I can respect that. Sometimes you just need a little time to let things stew. Mull the choices. Face God.

    Thanks for letting me see that we’re not alone in the way we forge our decisions (I can totally see myself doing the same thing at some point in time) and that it’s A-OK to do so.


  7. Tina says:


    Thanks for visiting. Would love to chat with your friend about any topics she would like covered.

  8. Carla Capshaw says:

    What a great article to have. I’m sending it to a friend of mine who can really use it.

  9. Tina says:


    Thank you, and thank you for stopping by.

  10. What an incredibly important Web site and an incredibly important service you are providing!! Thank you for your excellent article.

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