Telling your friends and family about your ovarian cancer diagnosis

Telling your partner, family and friends you have ovarian cancer is never 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.

These tips may help:

  • Choose the right time and place: somewhere away from distractions and where you feel comfortable.
  • Introduce the subject gradually and assess their reaction: 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 received messages of support.

“I set up a tree of communication, so my partner would only talk to a few people – and they would tell other people. Knowing my partner didn’t have to talk to everyone, because that can be wearing, was a huge relief. It was useful to take control of the little things because I had to let go of everything else.”

Sarah, diagnosed aged 40

You may just want to get on with life and not want to tell anyone about your cancer diagnosis. You may wish to just tell close family and friends or limit the amount of information you share. You may decide to wait some time before you tell anyone so you can adjust to your situation. These reactions are normal although they may change with time.

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 people were uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do or how to deal with it. But honestly, those were the people that I’m not in contact with now. It does firm up who your friends are. The most unlikely people can prove to be brilliant.”

Hannah, diagnosed aged 19

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 fund 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 okay 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.  

Your relationship with your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or partner

How your ovarian cancer diagnosis affects your relationship will depend on your personalities, your life experiences and on the level of commitment in your relationship. Often relationships are strengthened but for some a cancer diagnosis can test a relationship to its limits. 

Your partner is likely to be very distressed and can feel as much anxiety as you can. It can help to talk about your fears and what impact cancer and treatment has on both of you. This can help you both deal with these issues.

Starting a new relationship after cancer diagnosis

You may not be in a relationship when you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. You may worry about how to start a new relationship, particularly if your treatment means you will not be able to have children.

A question frequently asked is ‘when do I tell my new partner that I have cancer?’ There is no right or wrong answer. It is likely that you will know when the time is right. Building a relationship on trust and honesty will strengthen it.

Despite the difficulties, many young women have reported positive changes in their lives since their diagnosis, including in their relationships, their sense of spirituality and their general appreciation of life.