Cancer diagnosis

How do I talk to people?

Telling someone you have cancer may be a daunting and scary experience.

You may feel that you don’t want to be a burden to your family and friends, that they won’t understand what you are feeling, that you are afraid of breaking down, or that you may simply feel that you can handle it alone.  All of these feelings are normal.

There is never a good time to tell someone you have cancer.  But there are many benefits from sharing your diagnosis and cancer journey with others.  By working through your emotions with a friend or family, you may feel a feeling of relief that someone is now there to support you.

Sometimes talking to family and friends may not be enough.  You may wish to talk to other people, such as:

  • Cancer nurses
  • Counsellor
  • Psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Support group
  • Pastoral care

Every experience is unique, and this is where counselling and support is invaluable.

Individuals feel very differently about what to tell people, and how to tell them.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but we encourage you to consider these tips:

01. Take the time to process your diagnoses and acknowledge your feelings

Being diagnosed can be overwhelming. You may feel angry, sad, scared, in denial or even experience a change in your sense of identity. This is all normal.

02. Decide when you are comfortable sharing the information and make a list of people you plan to tell

Some will want to keep it to themselves and their immediate family until they have ‘digested’ the news; others want to share it more broadly. You may stagger when you share information with particular individuals or groups of people – for example, you may tell your parents early but not your children, or you may wish not to share all details with your employer.

03. Consider how you are going to share your information

Take the time to properly prepare to share the information. Some people announce it on social media, others want to share in person, others let word-of-mouth. You may wish to have a family member with you to help share with your friends and others important to you. There’s no right or wrong way – it’s what is most comfortable for you.

04. Expect to get a reaction from people

Bear in mind that people’s reactions are often unexpected and unpredictable – which can often be surprising and sometimes shocking. Most will want to help, but many won’t know how. Try to be prepared to answer their questions – and realise that you won’t know all of the answers to their questions. And most importantly, it’s OK to end the conversation if you are feeling emotional, distressed or overwhelmed.

05. Be kind to yourself

Sharing your cancer diagnosis will be emotionally draining and, at times, overwhelming. It’s OK to breakdown. Just go at your own pace.

06. Get Support

You may not wish to talk about your greatest fears with your family and friends. Or you may feel they won’t understand what you are going through. Join a support group, talk to a counsellor – they are there to help you on your cancer journey and help guide you.

Find a Support Centre near you