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How To Share Your Cancer Diagnosis with Family and Friends

The minute you’re told you have cancer, your life changes. Feelings of shock, anxiety and distress are all natural emotions. Being able to effectively manage these emotions as you navigate the cancer journey is a vital aspect of coping with cancer.

Among the many challenges is how to break the news to the people in your life. The world was recently given a front-row seat to the difficulties of this task when Britain’s Catherine, Princess of Wales, revealed her cancer diagnosis and shared that she waited until the appropriate time to tell her three young children.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to letting others know about your cancer journey. Some of us are far more comfortable than others when it comes to sharing the intimate details of our lives.

Sharing Your Cancer News

Each person and family dynamic is different. But one of the biggest factors is whether children are involved.

With kids, one of the most important considerations is to keep the discussion age appropriate. Your care team can offer guidance, but the discussion should take place in a safe space, in a way that allows children to feel comfortable and understand what’s happening. Among the strategies:

  • Be honest: Your children are more likely to feel confused or afraid if they sense you are holding something back.
  • Words are important: Use words they will understand, while covering the basic information they need to know. Older kids are more likely to want more details.
  • Talk about potential changes: Help your children prepare for any physical changes (hair loss or nausea, for example) that might occur during your treatment.
  • Explain that cancer is serious: Help them understand that there’s a difference between being sick with cancer or being sick with the flu or some other less serious illness.

With adults, think about your relationships with family and friends when deciding who to tell – and how much to tell them. Much like you, they may feel overwhelmed by the news and may not know what to say. But many of your family members and friends will be eager to help you on this journey.

Something to consider is the personal impact of repeating your new diagnosis and treatments. This can add to your own stress and anxiety.

Instead, you might want to pick a trusted family member or friend to serve essentially as your spokesperson. This person can pass along any updates about your treatment or disease progression that you wish to share. Or if you prefer to deliver the news personally, a weekly group chat or email would allow you to deliver each update once.

Your Support System

One of the benefits of sharing your diagnosis is that it helps you tap into your personal support system. Start with the people you feel the most comfortable with when it comes to sharing intimate details. This could be your spouse, partner, children, parents or siblings. You can expand outward from there.

These people in your support system are going to be the ones who are by your side, helping you through the process. While you are focused on your health, there are many things your family and friends can help with, including:

  • Driving you to and from doctor’s appointments and treatments
  • Preparing or providing meals for your family
  • Taking notes during your doctor’s appointment
  • Handling household chores (including lawn care or pool maintenance)
  • Offering a break to your primary caregiver
  • Spending time visiting with you

Ask for Help

You don’t have to take your cancer journey alone. Your loved ones are eager to help, but they may not know what to do. To take full advantage of this support system, you need to communicate.

You could start by putting together a list of things that you need help with. This could include grocery shopping, picking up your kids from school or preparing meals.

If you don’t feel comfortable asking people directly, include your list with your weekly updates. Or pass the list along to your designated point person.

There are also community resources, including support groups, that you can tap into. If you need help, talk with you cancer care team. They can help you connect with a wide range of programs that can make your journey easier.

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