How to Talk to Your Loved Ones About Cancer

  • Being diagnosed with cancer can be very upsetting and difficult to process, and talking about it to your loved ones can be a daunting prospect. Having support from friends and family through cancer treatment is invaluable, and telling them about your diagnosis can help you make decisions and feel less like you have to deal with it alone.

    April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in the UK, a time for raising awareness and talking about cancer, so we’ve set out some guidance on talking to your loved ones about diagnosis and treatment.

    Telling people about your diagnosis


    After a cancer diagnosis, it’s best to start with the people closest to you. You might already have someone who was with you when you were told the news, and that can sometimes help with telling other family and friends.

    It’s up to you what method you feel most comfortable with, whether that’s telling people in person, over the phone, or even sending an email or text message. You might even prefer another family member or friend who already knows telling other people in your life. Just make sure they’re comfortable doing that and how to deal with questions, and how you want people to approach the subject with you.

    Even if you want to take a little time to deal with a diagnosis on your own, reaching out to someone you trust can help you to work through your feelings and think discuss any plans or arrangements that need to be made.

    Dealing with their reactions

    Depending on what your family or friends know already, there are many different ways they can react. They may be waiting for updates from you on test results, so they’re already prepared for the possibility of a cancer diagnosis. Or it may come completely out of the blue, which can be harder for everyone to process. It can also depend on how experienced or knowledgeable they are with cancer and the nature of the diagnosis.

    It’s good to be prepared for a range of reactions and think of ways to deal with their emotions and responses. Naturally this can be hard when you’re already having to cope with the emotions of the diagnosis yourself, but try to be open to everyone’s reactions and how they feel.

    Some people can be very open with their emotions when you tell them, but others might be very quiet and not share how they feel. It can help to encourage them to talk about how they feel, or tell them more about what you’re experiencing. It can take time to process such a significant piece of news, so you can always take a break from a conversation and give everyone a chance to think about things before discussing details like treatments and future plans.

    Dealing with questions

    It’s natural that your loved ones will have questions about your diagnosis, so it’s good to prepare for this part of the conversation. Some people may even react by solely focusing on the details of the diagnosis and asking lots of questions rather than thinking about the emotional side.

    If you don’t want to answer a lot of questions straight away, you can always ask people to write down any questions they have for a later conversation, and for now just take time to process the news. They may also ask questions that you don’t have the answer to, so writing them down can be helpful so you can ask your healthcare team later.

    If you’re not ready to talk

    It may be the case that you’re just not ready to talk to loved ones about a cancer diagnosis. You might still be processing it yourself or you’re not ready to deal with the emotions of family and friends yet, and the many questions you’ll likely be asked. If they are aware of the diagnosis, you could ask them to give you time until you’re ready to talk about it.

    Some people may also prefer to just get on with life and not talk about a cancer diagnosis at all, as they find this easier to cope with. However, this can lead to problems further down the line as it becomes harder to make decisions about treatment and living arrangements, as well as the emotional toll.

    Even if it takes you a bit longer, try to plan time for talking to loved ones and sharing your thoughts and feelings, and allowing them to support you through such a difficult time.

    More resources

    You can find more useful advice and resources around cancer care and talking to loved ones at Macmillan. You can also find out more about Bowel Cancer Awareness Month here.

    Cancer care at Ramsay Health Care

    You can find out more about cancer care and treatments at Ramsay, or please do get in touch with us if you’d like more information or you want to book an appointment to see one of our specialists.

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