Breaking the News - Importance of Communication

Breaking the new 
Taking to Children about Cancer

    ←  Educational information



People who have been told they have cancer may wonder whom to tell and how they should tell them. They often feel pressured to share their diagnosis, but most people are able to wait until they are ready. There is no set time when people begin to feel comfortable enough to discuss their cancer with others. It is different for each person.

  • With whom do you want or need to share your diagnosis?
  • What do you want to tell them?
  • What help do you want to receive from the people you have told?


Only you can decide when to talk to your friends and family about having cancer. Most people need and want to talk to someone when they find themselves in this kind of situation. Sometimes, telling those closest to you helps you to begin to take in the reality of what’s happening. Some people find that by talking, they begin to solve problems and think about other issues as their family and friends ask questions. As you talk with others, you may want to write down the questions that come up so that you can discuss them with your cancer care team. It helps to start by making a list of people that you want to talk to in person or not to talk to. Then you can make another list of less close friends that another friend or family member may contact with the news.

But even if you initially choose to hide your diagnosis from the world large, do try to share it with someone close to you as, dealing with this on your own, can be very isolating and frightening experience. However, on the other hand, be wary of being sucked into telling everyone about your situation and replaying the drama over and over again.

It is very easy to fall into the trap where you talk about it so much and reassure loved ones by saying "I'm really okay" that you eventually subconsciously separate yourself from how you really feel.

You may find that sharing the news of what you are facing leads you to people who become key sources of support and encouragement. Sharing this experience with loved ones gives them a chance to offer their support. Your honesty and openness can help open new lines of communication and make relationships stronger and better.

It's very hard to hide a diagnosis of cancer. Friends and family might suspect you have cancer when they become aware of symptoms or different types of tests you have had. Often when people do not know what's going on, they imagine the worst possible situation. But when you do share the news, they may still be stunned and not know how to react or what to say.


Before you talk to others about your illness, think about your own feelings, your reasons for telling others, and what you expect of them. Be ready for a wide range of reactions. When you share information about your diagnosis, your family and friends will have many different feelings, too. They also need support at this time. They might be able to express their feelings to you, or they may try to hide them.

Think about how much you want to share. You may want to explain what kind of cancer you have, which treatments you might need, and what your outlook  is. People are very sobered by the news that someone has a cancer diagnosis. You may want to reassure them that you will do whatever it takes to fight the cancer and would like their support and encouragement.

Think about your ‘‘trigger points” or topics that are too sensitive for you to talk about yet. Do you get angry when people question your choice of treatments? Maybe this is a topic you will have to avoid. Does it annoy you when people bring their religion into it, saying things like, “God never gives you more than you can handle?” Think about the things that people have said or could say that bother you. Then, plan a response that is comfortable for you and cuts off the conversation. And once you’ve shared what you wish to share, be prepared to change to another topic. Maybe you can say something like “I really get tired of talking about cancer. Let’s talk about something else.”




Notify Family and Friends -

Let Email do the work for you.

It’s common for people to have many questions about the cancer and how it’s treated. It can be OK to explain all this to one or two close friends, but it may get tiring to tell a lot of people this much detail again and again, repeating how you are feeling etc. But try to remember that those who ask really want to know because they care about you and your partner.

Sending a round robin email is an excellent way of keeping in touch. People will be glad they are able to communicate with you via email. By doing this you are able to get the news out without going insane having to repeat yourself! You can also suggest to family and friends how they can help you by advising others when you are ready for visitors.

You could also create a "telephone tree" by asking each person to let others know. This also helps others to feel they are doing something practical to help you. 

As people get to know they will properly want to contact you. This can be tiring, particularly if several people call you on the same day. If possible, get someone else to take your phone calls, or put on your answer phone so that you can speak to people when you feel up to it.


 Helping friends to help you

Asking for support

Talking to children about cancer

Creating a support team

A way to strengthen yourself on your path towards healing is to extend the relationship to others. The emotional experience of sharing and enjoying your family and friends supports, your love for life and your will to survive will be strengthened.

As you make the transition from a helpless person to an activist, one of the most important realizations is that YOU have everything to do with how others perceive you and treat you. If you can accept your condition and hold self-pity at bay, others won't feel sorry for you. If you can discuss your disease and medical therapy in a matter-of-fact manner, they'll respond in kind without fear or awkwardness. You are in charge. You can subtly and gently put your family, friends and co-workers at ease by being frank about what you want to talk about or not talk about and by being explicit about whether and when you want their help.


Sharing your life with others and receiving aid or support from friends and family will improve your ability to cope and help you to find the strength for your healing and for your life. A person who is lonely or alone often feels like a helpless victim. There is a need to share your own problems, but helping others find solutions or cope better with the problems of daily living gives strength to both the giver and the receiver. You can also take part in psychological support programmes, either through private counseling or group therapy. Sharing frustrations with others in similar circumstances often relieves the sense of isolation, terror and despair cancer patients often feel.

 Cancer doesn't affects only one person

Cancer affects couples, families, and friends. The complex feelings and lifestyle changes that follow a cancer diagnosis can be almost as overwhelming for family members and friends as they are for the person with cancer.

Link: Caregiver care

Cancer changes the way you relate to your family and friends, and the way they relate to you.

One of the first things a friend or family member will often say is “What can I do to help?” You may be tempted to say, “Oh, nothing right now. We’re just fine.” Maybe you don’t really know what you need, want your privacy, or feel you have all you can handle without having more people around you. Remember that most people really do want to help, and it is likely that you will need extra help at some point during your cancer treatment.

Your loved ones need to do things for you and want to support you. It helps them feel like they’re part of your life. Allow friends and family to help you.

Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need. For example, tell them when you need a ride to the doctor, or find out if they might be able to help with housecleaning, yard work, or child care. There will be times when you don’t know what you need, but even just saying that will be helpful. It also gives them a chance to offer something they can do for you.


Try to encourage loved ones to talk to you about how they are feeling so you can work through questions together. You can say, “How are you doing? Can you believe this?” This gives your friend or family member permission to talk with you about their feelings. But if you are not prepared to hear about their fears and worries, don’t ask questions like this.

It can be tough enough to manage your treatment and figure out how you feel, without worrying about others. It takes effort and emotional work that you may not have the energy for. But if you want to foster openness, this is one way to do so.

Sometimes you may not want to talk about how you feel or about how others feel.

You can gently tell others this just by saying something like, “You know, usually I am OK to talk about things like this, but today I just can’t handle it. I’m sure you understand.” This way you set your own boundaries about when and under what circumstances you are able to discuss your illness.

Communication becomes especially important for people with cancer and those who care about them.

Lack of communication can lead to isolation, frustration, and unmet needs. People with cancer who don't talk about their illness often feel they are facing cancer alone.

Talking about and sharing feelings and needs lets couples, families, and friends work together to solve problems and cope with difficult situations.

When feelings and wishes are left unsaid, you may be left with inaccurate, even hurtful assumptions, about why the people who care about you are acting in a specific way.

Sharing your feelings, such as sadness and fear, also lets others know how much you care for and love them. Talking about feelings and problems with honesty, sincerity, and openness can greatly reduce the stress that cancer places on relationships.

If you are having a hard time talking with people, consider asking for help by joining a support group or talking with a special trained health mentor or social worker.


         Finding a Good Listener


Having someone to listen to you is so important when you have a cancer diagnosis and this can be a husband, wife, partner, friend, parent, son or daughter. Sometimes, though it is difficult for people to be totally honest about their feelings and problems for fear of upsetting those close to them.

When you're affected by cancer you want to know there's always someone you can turn to for help. Someone who can answer your questions, whatever they may be. When you're living with cancer, the good days really matter. The day you get some answers about your treatment, or about benefits, or just have a chat with someone who understands. We're here to help you have more good days.

Talking  with someone who understands can help you to make today a good day. 

You don't need a reason to me. Just talking to someone who understands can be the best way to get through a bad day.

Contact me



It can be hard to talk about how it feels to have cancer. But talking can help, even though it is hard to do. 

Some people need to think through their feelings, thoughts and emotions before doing this. Talking to people gives you an outlet, and will help you to sort out your emotions. It can also help you to clarify your situation and to make your own decisions about things like treatment, finances, work, whom to tell, and many other things. Choose someone you feel comfortable with. It may be someone you are close to, like a relative or friend, or it may be someone outside your normal situation, such as your doctor, a nurse, a psychologist or psychiatrist, a support worker or a spiritual or religious adviser.


  • Choose a good listener
  • Choose a good time to share your feelings.
  • Understand your feelings
  • Don't act cheerful when you don't feel that way.
  • You may need to find someone outside your family to talk to.
  • Cancer is too much to handle all by yourself.

You may be tearful and flat for some weeks. You may feel stunned and resentful to see life going on normally around you. It is normal to be afraid of many things, such as the cancer itself, treatment, pain, the effect the cancer has on your family, and even death. You may not be able to think straight. It can be difficult to make decisions about treatment, what you want to tell family and friends or what to do at home and at work.


In general, tell the people close to you how you feel. This is sometimes hard to do, but it is healthy to share what you are feeling with others.

  • If you do not feel comfortable doing this, you may want to find a support group or a mental health counselor to help you. Your support group or counselor will be there for you at a regular time set aside for you to focus on and talk about your concerns and issues.

  • Others prefer workshops, peer groups, or religious support. Try different things until you find what works for you. When you keep other people involved and informed about your illness, it helps ease your burden. Friends and family can share their strength and concern with you and with each other, which can be helpful for everyone involved.

If you or your family do not normally like to talk about certain personal issues, remember that it’s OK not to open up to everyone. Some people are very careful about who they talk with and what they talk about. This might be a good time, though, for you to start to work on becoming more expressive with trusted loved ones.


 You may have friends or family members who tell you to “cheer up” when you talk to them about your sadness, worries, or fears.

It is OK to ask them gently if they would be willing just to listen, without judgment or giving advice (unless you ask for it). It is important for your mental health that you find someone you can talk to.


Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged by people who are uncomfortable with your feelings.


Some people are unable to listen, not because of you, but because of their own experiences or their own sadness. That has nothing to do with you. You may have to accept that this person may not be the best one for you to talk to. Others may handle it better.


Sometimes people will try to comfort you on a day when you are feeling especially angry. Or a person may come up to you and begin talking about your cancer when you are trying to focus on your child’s play at school. Maybe someone you barely recognize stops you in the grocery store with the sad story of her father’s cancer. You really don’t want to hear their story, but you know they’re just trying to be nice or relate to you. How can you stop them politely? Sometimes you just have to take a couple of deep breaths and say calmly, “Thank you so much for your concern, but I need to focus on something else today.” Remember, it is always your decision about whether or not you choose to discuss it.


Not telling people the truth about the diagnosis of cancer takes the power away from them, denials them to express freely emotions, or make decisions about their treatment, or finish unfinished affairs. A person with cancer has the right to know about the cancer and to decide what they will do and how they will live.

There are exceptions to any generalization, but most people relate that ‘Mum took the news much better than we thought she would'. For many people, their fears are far worse than the truth of what is actually wrong with them. Family members usually need to share their feelings, fears, anxieties and hopes with each other - this becomes impossible and creates loneliness if you hide the diagnosis from the person with cancer.


The same ideas apply to people who are not part of a couple. But you may feel unsure how and when to talk about having cancer if you are single, especially if you are just starting to date someone. Trust yourself to be the judge of the best time to share this part of your life with them. You may want to talk about it very early in a relationship, or you might want to wait until you feel a closer bond with the person. This decision is yours to make. Whatever reaction the person has, you are not at fault for sharing the news at a bad time. You may find it helps to practice what you will say with a friend before sharing with your new partner.

For single people without supportive family members nearby, it may be even more important to let close friends know what’s happening with your cancer and its treatment. Think ahead so you can tell them what they can do when they ask how they can help – people who live alone often have a few extra needs compared to those who live with others. You may not feel OK going home alone after chemo, for instance. Or, you may need to have someone you can call if you start having trouble during the night. Some of your friends may feel comfortable with food shopping, yard work, dog walking, or other such tasks. Remember that your friends want to help you, and by telling them what you need you can help them feel good about doing that.


Coping with cancer

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  Taking to Children about Cancer

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