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Telling Loved Ones about Your Cancer

separator Many people find it difficult to tell the people in their lives, “I have cancer.” Here are some approaches you can take to make the telling a little easier on you—and sometimes on the people you’re telling as well.

Telling the people closest to you
It’s important to keep the people in your life informed about what’s going on with your health. So as soon as you know cancer is a possibility, it’s a good idea to tell those who are close to you. They can be a support system at a time you really need it. And if you keep them informed about your news as it happens, that makes it easier to tell them as you learn more specific information.

Telling friends and co-workers
Maybe you’ve already told a lot of people that you had a biopsy, so they knew you were waiting for results. It’s a little easier that way, because they already know cancer is a possibility.

When you tell them about the cancer, you can tell them as much or as little as you want. Most people will ask questions—about the kind of treatment you’ll have and about the seriousness of your disease. If you want to tell them as much as you know, that’s completely up to you. It’s also your choice not to tell them. You can simply say something like, “I don’t know the answers yet. It’s too soon to say.” Being vague is an option you’re entitled to exercise.

Some people may feel uncomfortable and not know what to say. Knowing this can help you understand if people say things that seem a little strange or insensitive.

Telling children
When you first find out you have cancer, it’s normal to feel shocked and afraid. It’s a good idea to wait until these feelings aren’t quite as strong before you tell your children. It will be helpful if you’re feeling calm when you talk to them about this.

Young children don’t usually need a lot of details. You can tell them you’re sick, and that you may need to be in the hospital, but let them know they’ll be able to visit. Make sure they know that they’ll be well taken care of and that the doctors are going to do everything they can to help you get better.

Older children probably already know that cancer is a serious disease. Do everything you can to reassure them that you’re getting the best possible care. You can tell them what your treatment will be, why you’re having that particular type of treatment plan, etc. 

Accept offers of help
It’s almost certain that as soon as you tell friends you have cancer, many of them will offer their help. Take them up on it! People want to do something for you, but they often don’t know what. Be specific with them. Here are some of the things you can ask them to do:

  • Drive you to treatment appointments
  • Cook a meal on days you get treatment
  • Take care of your children on days you feel tired or queasy
  • Help you do household chores, like laundry, grocery shopping, etc.

Remember, accepting help is one good way to take care of yourself. And your friends will appreciate feeling useful to you. There will always be a time when you can return the favor for them later on.

National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society
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