‘We made the difficult decision to keep my cancer a secret from our children’

Alice Hall
·3-min read
Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne: ‘A cancer diagnosis is an incredibly personal thing, so I understand why Helen McCrory chose to keep hers private’
Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne: ‘A cancer diagnosis is an incredibly personal thing, so I understand why Helen McCrory chose to keep hers private’

Some people might be surprised to learn that I initially kept my cancer diagnosis a secret from my family – including my two children. I run a digital health platform (myfreda.com) that aims to break the stigma around periods and menopause, so I’m accustomed to talking openly about bodies. But at the time, my husband and I felt that it was the right decision for our family.

In the months before my diagnosis, I had been experiencing some irregular bleeding, which I put down to early menopause. However, my husband is a gynaecologist and he suspected it might be more. I went for a consultation alone, where I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. At the time, I was completely lost for words; you never think it is going to happen to you.

Later that night, I told my husband and his face went blank. He blamed himself for not making me get it checked out sooner. We made the difficult decision to keep my cancer a secret from our children, who were aged 19 and 20, and my wider family, until we knew exactly what we were dealing with. Although it felt strange to hide it from them, both of them were at university and we didn’t want to burden them with any uncertainty. We agreed that we would tell them once we knew exactly how far along the cancer was, and what treatment I needed.

Those first few weeks were difficult. I remember walking into the kitchen and having my first panic attack when I saw my husband and son cooking together. Later down the line my friend, who is a therapist, said it was because my mind was processing what life could look like if I wasn’t there any more.

I had surgery to remove the tumour, but because the cancer had extended beyond the bladder wall I was left with two options: a cystectomy to remove the bladder, or chemotherapy. I opted for chemotherapy, and at that point we told our immediate family. Given the side-effects of the treatment, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hide the cancer for long.

My daughter dealt with my diagnosis well, but my son found it a lot harder to process. I remember him asking two questions: “Are you going to lose your hair?” and “Are you going to die?” I assured him: “Not if I can help it.” However, my mum felt betrayed that I hadn’t told her straight away. I explained to her that it was my cancer, and that was how I wanted to deal with it.

Throughout my treatment – a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy – we only confided in a handful of close friends. Telling them felt like the hardest thing, as I didn’t want the responsibility of them knowing. However, I lost some of my hair during the treatment so it slowly became more obvious that I had cancer. Sometimes we would be out on a walk and bump into a friend, who would say I looked tired or ask about my hair. I was always honest and said I had cancer, although I didn't go out of my way to tell people. I wanted to keep living my life as normal, without letting the cancer define me.

The treatment worked, but I still live with a lot of uncertainty between check-ups. A cancer diagnosis is an incredibly personal thing, so I understand why Helen McCrory chose to keep hers private. Looking back, it was the best decision for our family and I wouldn't change how I did things.

For information and support on cancer, contact Macmillan’s support line on 0808 808 00 00 or visit the website

Read more: ‘My mum kept her cancer secret too – and it's left a lifetime of sadness’

Read more: ‘Why I didn’t want anyone to know I had cancer’