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How to tell people

Having cancer can mean you need to talk about your diagnosis with other people – friends and family, work colleagues and the wider community.

A person wearing a purple jacket and bluetooth earphones is stood outside talking to a phone in her hand.

How to talk to others about cancer

As you think about talking to others about your cancer, remember that:

  • Sharing your situation with others gives them an opportunity to help and share their feelings with you.
  • Although you may worry about upsetting others, keeping the diagnosis to yourself can isolate you. Telling those closest to you can share the worry as most people do care and want to be there for you.
  • People will react differently and it is often hard for them to know how to act towards you, they may need some time and you may need to help them too.
"Do what feels right for you and your situation, either at home or at work."

When should I tell people?

Only you will know when it feels right to talk with your family and friends about your cancer. You may find you need to process the news yourself, before telling others. It can help to think about what you will say. Telling them about your type of cancer, and the treatment plan is a good place to start. It’s something practical to focus on.

Who should I tell?

Family and friends
Who you tell about your diagnosis is your choice. However, we would encourage you to talk to those close to you about your circumstances, including friends and family.

That’s why our cancer support team is here with you, at every step, if you feel it may help to speak with a healthcare professional to guide you through these difficult early conversations.

If you have children, it can also help to let your child’s school or college know. This helps teachers support them at school and to understand any potential behavioural changes.

"Do what feels right for you and your situation, either at home or at work."

Employment, college, school
Letting your employer know about your diagnosis could extend your support network and enable them to help you be more flexible with your hours.

It also helps them to appreciate your situation and understand that your concentration may be impacted.

Colleagues can also be an additional support network – they don’t all necessarily need to know, but helping them to understand could in turn help you.

Plan ahead

Prepare a list of tasks that people might be able to help you with. Your friends and family may offer help, and it’s better to offer something specific that they can do. This might be either practical , such as transport, shopping, childcare, pet care or to meet up with for support and a chat. There are also Apps for your phone to help with this.

You may also find you have lots of questions yourself about your cancer, which crop up in conversation with others. Write the questions down, and then you can ask your healthcare team.

Talking about cancer — your support

Some of the conversations you’re facing may feel very difficult. Sometimes, talking about your cancer with those closest to you, can feel too painful. It can often be easier talking to someone who isn’t directly affected and can offer support and advice.

This might be with a support group (locally or online), or cancer forums. You could drop into our centre and talk with one of our cancer support specialists, and meet others who are going through a similar experience.

If you’re finding the feelings stress around your cancer is affecting you day to day, then you may benefit from counselling. Your GP may be able to refer you for local counselling and our cancer support specialists and psychologists at our centre can help.

I don’t feel like talking

" there may be days when you find that you want to talk about normal things... "

Those closest to you may know you well, and recognise that you’re withdrawn or keeping your worries to yourself. If they mention their concerns to you, this can be the chance for you to open up. Sharing your thoughts and fears can give them an opportunity to listen, support you, and perhaps share their feelings too.

However, there may be days when you find that you want to talk about normal things. Your family and friends may not always realise this, so it can help to let them know that you’re still you, and you’d like to talk about other things apart from the cancer for while. Explain to them that you will talk about your cancer when you’re ready.