CLL Alternatives

Out of the Closet: When to Tell Friends and Family about a CLL Diagnosis

Posted by: Denise on: November 11, 2017

For whatever reason, when I was first diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia by my original hematologist, he advised that I keep the news to myself.

“It’s stage zero. You have no symptoms; you look healthy. So there’s really no reason to tell everyone you know—unless you want to.”

Unless you want to.

I had no idea what I wanted. I honestly didn’t even believe I really had CLL until my follow-up visit. I was totally expecting them to test my blood and apologize for their mistake. And I knew what I would say to that. “Thank you! God bless you! No harm, no foul.” And most of all… “Good bye!”

Of course, that didn’t happen.

But back to the issue of what and when to tell people. Now that it’s been sixteen years, as of this writing, I’ve learned that most people tell everyone everything. From day one.

But not me. I told my immediate family and one special friend and her husband. I could tell by her husband’s response that he felt like he was talking to a doomed woman. At that moment I knew what I wanted, and that’s what I did for nearly fifteen years.

I told no one.

I felt safe in my anonymity. I told myself I would share my story when I started chemo. At the time, I was positive chemo was inevitable. In 2001 if you look up “CLL” or “chronic lymphocytic leukemia” on Google, the news was not good. It was all about the Rai or Binet stages. And while I was low on both, all the attending information was not encouraging. Even the brochure from the hematologist was a colossal downer. The last section was about end-of-life decisions. How’s that for encouragement?

I didn’t want everyone to think of me as a dead woman, so I kept my mouth shut and swore my family to secrecy. I kept it that way for a long, long time. For years, actually.

It wasn’t until November 2011 that I started CLL at the urging of my husband. He said it was time to share my story with other people. I wasn’t keen on that idea because I wasn’t ‘cured’ yet and, at the time, that was my personal benchmark. I wanted to be cancer free.

The reason for this benchmark: I’d been reading a site by a man with CLL who was trying just about every alternative under the sun, including artemisinin. Unfortunately, his final entry was a farewell post. His CLL was fatal, his body was riddled with cancer, and he didn’t have anything to add to his site. I was horrified. For him. For myself. I didn’t want to start a site to do that to others.

But still…by 2011 I was already ten years into this thing and it appeared I wasn’t about to sign off just yet. Not only that, I’d been actively researching and trying out alternatives and changing my lifestyle—and seeing results! So I felt I did, in fact, have something to share. So I started my web site, bringing me out of the closet, albeit anonymously. And ironically.

But slowly, some time around 2013, I started telling friends, one at a time. At first it made me uneasy, as if telling my tale would somehow make it more real. And lethal. But things had changed since 2001. A lot of people I knew were living with cancer. It wasn’t quite the sudden and immediate death sentence it had been.

So I told more friends, one by one, especially and always those who had or were close to someone who had a diagnosis. At this point, it couldn’t make the diagnosis any more real than it already was. And it certainly didn’t make the course of the disease any worse. In fact, by 2013, my WBC (white blood count) started to drop as a result of starting a raw food/low temperature-cooked food diet.

At the time of this writing, after sixteen years of living with a CLL diagnosis, I believe I’m out of the closet. I’m Denise and I have a CLL Diagnosis. Here is an important point: because of Hessel Baartse’s web site and story, I’ve learned to refuse to say that I “have CLL.” No. Instead I say I have a “CLL diagnosis.” This separates me from the illness, and I enjoy every degree of separation!

So what should you do if you are newly diagnosed? To tell or not to tell? My answer: it’s entirely up to you. I’d go with whatever feels right. For me, I needed the cushion of years—and wellness—before I could share my story with my in-person friends. I’m so glad my husband encouraged me to start because I’ve made so many friends, and so many valuable connections. And if I’ve helped a lot of people along the way, well, that’s kind of the point.

2 Responses to "Out of the Closet: When to Tell Friends and Family about a CLL Diagnosis"

Hi Denise! Thanks you so much for providing more info. This is to thank you for recommending The Metabolic Approach to Cancer. I have skimmed through it quickly.

Wishing you best of health!


Hi Vin,
You are very welcome. I wrote this while in the vet’s office waiting to see if my dog has long for this world (he does!). I also skimmed The Metabolic Approach to Cancer. It bears re-reading more slowly. I particularly found meaning in the chapter on Hormones. Relevant for all of us. I have given away copies and keep reading it myself.
I have more posts to come.
All best, Denise

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