College is a time when it can become a big decision whether or not to tell people about your history with cancer because you’re in a new environment where nobody knows you or your story. I know everyone handles this issue differently and I’m not judging anyone else’s approach, but I want to share some of my experiences. For me, the question of whether or not to tell people that I had cancer has never really been a question. I’m very open with people about it, for several reasons.
One is that I consider being a cancer survivor an important part of who I am. It’s not “the” thing that defines me, but it’s one of several things I consider a big part of my identity. Sure, not everyone needs to know that, but it’s only natural to me that the people close to me would know about it just like they would know anything else about me. All of my friends know, and they’re really mature and respectful about it. I’ve found that, in general, people recognize that being a cancer survivor is just one part of who I am, and it doesn’t change their view of me.
I’m also very involved in fundraising for an organization that my family became involved with during my treatment. We attended Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, and we’ve continued to volunteer and fundraise for the camp ever since. Every summer we go to Maine to volunteer there, and every winter we organize (and participate in!) a polar dip to raise money to send more families to camp. Inevitable, people ask me why I choose to give up weeks of my summer to work with sick kids or why I’m crazy enough to jump into a frozen lake in February. And when they ask, I tell them exactly why the cause is so important to me, which includes telling them about my history with cancer. This is also the case when people ask my why I’ve chosen to go to nursing school. Since going to college, I get the “why nursing” question a whole lot, so I tell a lot of people. But I really don't mind, because I think of it this way: if sharing my story can be a way to bring awareness to childhood cancer awareness or to the importance of nursing, I’m happy to tell anyone and everyone.
Ultimately, I’ve found that being open about my story has allowed me to help other families going through the same thing. Several times I’ve told someone who I don’t know very well about my history with cancer, and that person told me about a friend/family member/neighbor/etc. whose child had been diagnosed, and my family was then able to contact them and build meaningful relationships with them. These experiences have happened because I’ve chosen to be very open about “disclosure,” even with people I don't know very well.
Like I said, I know that not everyone has the same approach, and I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts about this issue!