The Blog

The Jackie Collins Dilemma - To Tell or Not to Tell?


Jackie Collins had the right to keep her cancer secret from her close family, but it may have been the wrong choice.

It was, of course, her life and her cancer and her impending death. She owned all three of those. Like any other person in that situation, whether a celebrity or the person living next door, every individual has decide who to tell and when to tell according to what they feel are their own needs and the best interests of those around them.

I can understand why she or others may wish to keep it secret.

There could be a misplaced sense of shame as having a disease. Or not wanting to be an object of pity. Or not wanting to be inundated with constant demands for medical updates. Or feeling that they would cope better if they were allowed to get on with ordinary life whereas they would go into meltdown if they were surrounded by sympathy. Or that family members would be distraught, so why share out the pain when they could keep it to themselves. Or that the person did not have the energy to deal with non-coping relatives.

But while these are all considerations, there are other, more powerful arguments against such secrecy.

It would save them the shock of finding out about the cancer shortly before the person's death and give them time to come to terms with it.

It would save them the embarrassment of hearing from strangers if, as is quite possible, news should slip out. That would add to their sense of hurt.

It would save them the distress of feeling the person did not value or trust them enough to share her condition with them. Of course, that may well not have been the sufferer's reason at all, but it would still be hard for others not to feel slighted by the decision.

It would allow them the chance to help the person in various ways, be it practical, such as giving lifts to appointments and collecting prescriptions, or providing emotional support, which they would have been happy to do and from which the person could have benefitted.

It would give them the chance to tell the person things that they can now never say. It might an apology for some hurt in the past, or an expression of love, or a promise to look after a relative who was vulnerable. Such words could be enormously enriching for both the person and those concerned.

It would help them grieve better after the death rather than have anger and confusion mixed in with their sadness and taking over from it.

It begs the question of whether we own ourselves totally or if others have a share in us. We are social creatures who bond and interact with others, so their lives are affected by our lives, including our illness and our demise. Jackie Collins chose a route that may have been appropriate for her, but, in most cases, secrecy is unhelpful, if not hurtful for family and friends. Illness is not shameful and usually brings out the best in those around the person. Loss and grief cannot be avoided and are much better anticipated and shared.

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