Telling Friends and Family
About Your Cancer Diagnosis


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.

Tell your 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):

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 side effects.
  • 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 treatment.
  • 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 attorney.
  • If you need help paying for treatment, do not be shy about asking for financial assistance. Cancer treatment is expensive.

Copyright © 2005-2018 by Mark Kantrowitz. All rights reserved.

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