Telling family and friends about your diagnosis

Telling your partner, family and friends that you have cancer will never be easy. It is likely to be a shock as they may feel that young people aren’t supposed to get cancer.

There is no right or wrong way to tell someone that you have cancer but these tips may help:

  • Choose somewhere comfortable: somewhere away from distractions may help to put you at ease
  • Introduce the subject gradually: what you're saying might be hard to take in. It is often a good idea to establish what they know or suspect first, and then you can add to this information and check their understanding.
  • Don't be put off by silence: they may not know what to say. Sometimes sitting together can be more comforting than talking.
  • Get help: your CNS or consultant can help you or you may want a close friend or relative by your side. If you feel nervous about telling a large number of people then you could ask a friend if they are happy to tell others on your behalf.
  • Use other methods: sometimes it is easier to share the news over the phone, by letter or email. It is unlikely that close family members and friends will want to be informed via social media, but for friends that aren't as close, you may find this a useful way to keep people informed and receive messages of support.

How to deal with people’s reactions

Sometimes we expect people close to us to know exactly what to do and say.

If people aren't being as sensitive as you'd like, it may be because they are feeling overwhelmed, frightened, helpless or angry. Some people have no experience of cancer and may withdraw from you. It may make them aware of their own vulnerability or bring back bad memories.

You may feel hurt and disappointed when friends and family struggle to be there for you. While some friends can’t offer you the support that you need others will be a tremendous help.

Some friends may use denial to protect themselves from the worry and fear surrounding your illness. This can be frustrating, particularly in a partner, as it may prevent you from talking about what is on your mind. You could say that you find their way of dealing with it understandable, but difficult, and encourage them to talk.

Your friends and family may want to talk about your diagnosis and treatment all the time. If you need a break let your friends or family know in advance that the subject is off limits for the day.

You might find that friends and family encourage you to be positive all the time and ‘fight’ your cancer. This approach, although helpful at times, is hard to maintain and there will be days when you just don’t have the energy to ‘be positive’ which is understandable and it is OK to say so.

Try to think about how your family and friends can help you in practical terms, who is good to talk to, who may be happy to cook the odd meal, run errands or help with the everyday. Many will be delighted to be asked.