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Telling family members and friends

Different people may react differently when they hear the word cancer. Feelings of sadness, fear and shame are often associated with cancer. For this reason, some people want to keep their cancer diagnosis very private.

You may only want to tell family members or a few close friends about your cancer diagnosis. This news can be especially hard on family members, but it’s usually a good idea to be open and honest with them.

These tips may help you tell your family and friends about a cancer diagnosis.

  • Make it easy to have a private, quiet conversation. Turn off the TV and computer. Close the door. Try to make sure that you won’t be interrupted by the phone or other people.
  • Have someone who already knows about the diagnosis with you if you think that might help.
  • Ease into the conversation by saying something like:
    • “I think it would be good to tell you what’s going on. Is that okay?”
    • “I have something serious to talk to you about.”
  • If the person already knows a bit about the situation, you might start with:
    • “I think you know some of this already. Can you tell me what you know? I can take it from there.”
  • Give information in small chunks, a few sentences at a time. Check to make sure that the person understands. You could ask:
    • “Is this making sense?”
    • “Do you see what I mean?”
  • Don’t worry about silences. You may find that holding hands or sitting together quietly says enough.
  • If silence makes you uncomfortable, you might want to ask a simple question, such as:
    • “What are you thinking about?”
    • “Can I share something with you?”

Be as honest as possible about the situation and your feelings. You don’t need to act upbeat and positive or brave, if that’s not how you feel.


Dr Jessie Lee-McIsaac Preventing cancer through healthy living school policies

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