After you hear about your cancer diagnosis, you may want to avoid
telling friends and family about your condition. You may feel like
you've just been handed a death sentence, and you don't want to be the
subject of gossip. You may be concerned about the impact it will have
on your children. But now is precisely when you need to have the
support of friends and family.
There is nothing shameful about a cancer diagnosis. Millions of people
are diagnosed with cancer every year. Cancer doesn't care whether you
are rich or poor, famous or obscure,
good or bad. Bad things happen to good people just as much as bad
things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people.
People won't pity you because you are ill. Most people will want to
know how they can help. They will admire your strength and your
courage, which you earn just by surviving.
The simplest approach is often the best. Just tell your friends and
family that you have been diagnosed with cancer. Focus on the factual
information: the type and staging of your cancer, the likely
treatment, your prognosis, and what will be happening next.
colleagues whether you'll be taking off time from work. Tell your boss
whether you will be able to continue performing your duties and
whether he or she will need to make any accommodations to permit you
to continue working. The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents you
from losing your job because of your cancer diagnosis.
When you tell people about your diagnosis, you will feel
better. Everybody knows somebody who has had cancer, so by sharing you
will become part of a larger community of survivors. You are not alone.
Telling Children a Parent has Cancer
When telling children, provide balanced honest answers to their
questions. Explain what cancer is, what your diagnosis means, and what
your treatment will entail. Be sure to emphasize that it isn't their
fault that you're sick. Tell them that cancer is not contagious, so
they can't get it from you.
The following are some of the better books on this topic (links to Amazon):
- Peter Van Dernoot and Madelyn Case,
Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer: A Guide for Parents, Hatherleigh Press,
February 2002. 240 pages.
- Joan F. Hermann, Katherine V. Bruss, Sue P. Heiney and Joy
Cancer in the Family: Helping Children Cope With a
Parent's Illness, American Cancer Society, May 2001. 218 pages.
- Marge Heegaard,
When Someone Has a Very Serious Illness: Children Can Learn to Cope with Loss and Change, Woodland Press, 1992.
- Wendy S. Harpham,
When a Parent Has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children, Perennial Currents, October 2004. 240 pages.
- Neil Russell,
Can I Still Kiss You? Answering Your Children's Questions About Cancer, HCI, October 2001. 100 pages.
- Kathleen McCue and Ron Bonn,
How to Help Children Through a Parent's Serious Illness, St. Martin's Press, September 1996. 240
How They Can Help
Everybody is going to ask you what they can do to help. Even if you
think you don't need their help, be prepared with a few ideas of ways
they can help. It will
make them feel better if they think they're helping. Plus, keeping
them involved will help you, even if you don't think you need their
help. Numerous studies have showing that survival rates are higher if
the patient has a close network of family and friends that helps
support them throughout their treatment.
Here are a few ideas of ways your friends and family can help:
- They can drive you to your treatment sessions. You don't know how
the chemotherapy or radiation therapy will affect you, so it is best
to have someone else drive you to and from your therapy.
- Have them accompany you to your doctor appointments. They can take
notes while you focus on what the doctor is saying. They may think of
questions you may have overlooked. It helps to have a second set of ears.
- When you're in the hospital, have a friend or family member around
to help. Nurses are very busy and don't always come promptly when you
push the call button, and having someone around to actively
advocate for you can get you better care.
- They can run errands for you. Cancer treatment will make you
fatigued and easily tired. Having someone who can pick up your
medication from the drug store, get some groceries from the grocery
store or clean your house will be a big help.
They can also help change your bed linens and do your laundry.
- Ask them to make dinner for you. Your caregiver may be so busy
taking care of you that he or she won't have the time to prepare a
good home-cooked meal. Each friend could volunteer to prepare dinner
for you on a particular day of the week.
- Your friends and family can act as a sounding board for you. You
may have some decisions to make, and talking about them with someone
else can help clarify your thinking. For example, you may have a
choice of possible treatments, each with a different set of potential
- Just having someone to talk to during your treatment or when you
are hospitalized can help. Even if your hospital room or the
chemotherapy infusion room has a television
set and you brought along books to read, you will find yourself
getting bored after the first few days. Short regular visits are
best, as they will give you something to look forward to.
- You can ask them to watch your children while you are undergoing
- Having a friend with you during treatment can help ensure that you
get quality care. They can act as an advocate on your behalf. When
your IV runs dry, they can fetch a nurse. Otherwise, you will sit
listening to the IV alarm's constant beeping for hours.
- They can help provide emotional support. Talking about it will
help you feel more at ease. It will help you avoid feeling like you're
on your own.
- You may need to consider what will happen to your children if you
should die from the cancer. Discuss your wishes with your family. You
may want to also write a will and sign a living will and power of
- If you need help paying for treatment, do not be shy about asking
for financial assistance. Cancer treatment is expensive.
Copyright © 2005-2009 by Mark Kantrowitz. All rights reserved.
Suggestions and corrections are welcome and should be sent to