Talking about your cancer
Talking about cancer can be difficult, but it can also help you cope with the uncertainties or difficulties that may lie ahead.
I felt like I had to be careful about what I said to friends and family, because they might not be handling it well and I had to look after their feelings.
Sharing your fears and concerns with others can help you feel less isolated and put your concerns into perspective. Talking about a fear or worry can often stop it from growing in your mind. It can also help you adjust to a new situation.
Talking about things can help you make important decisions. It can produce a bond between you and the person you’re talking to. This is valuable in itself and can help you feel valued and supported.
Why it can be difficult to talk about cancer
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There are several reasons why you may find it difficult to talk about cancer:
You may be afraid that you’ll lose control of your feelings. You may be unsure about how you’ll react, and that you’ll cry and not be able to stop. You may want to stay strong and feel that it’s not good to cry.
Many people used to see cancer as something that shouldn’t be talked about. However, things have changed a lot, and cancer is now widely talked and written about in magazines, on TV and on the radio. However, cancer can still be a taboo subject.
You may be worried that no one will understand what you’re going through, or that they’ll feel uncomfortable with your situation. Your family and friends may find it difficult to talk about your cancer because they don’t know what to say. They may avoid you altogether, and this can be hurtful.
Some people may want to pretend that the cancer is not happening. This can be very upsetting at a time when you need their support. In most cases, their feelings will change over time and they will be able to talk to you. However, if they can’t, you may have to accept that this is their way of dealing with things.
Some people have no experience to help them in supporting and talking to you. They may never have had a serious illness themselves or known anyone who has. They may be unsure of what you want and need, or how to ask you.
Your friends or family may also be worried about how you’ll react if they bring up the subject of cancer. They may think that they won’t know what to do if you cry or get upset.
It can be difficult to talk about cancer for any of these reasons. But being open and talking about your situation and feelings will let people know what support you may need. You can learn to judge reactions, and see who is willing to talk to you and be supportive.
How to talk about cancer
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How you talk to people about cancer will depend very much on your own personality and how you usually talk to the people around you. When you’ve identified people who can help and support you, you can try the following:
At first, just talk about everyday things if you want to. Just because you’ve been affected by cancer doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to talk about anything else. Talking about everyday things may help you feel more comfortable about discussing difficult topics later.
Tell the person that you want to talk about your cancer experience and how you feel.
You could start by saying something general before moving on to more difficult subjects. This could make it easier to talk about something more specific, such as your uncertainty about what the future holds.
If you’ve been worrying about something a lot, it’s good to say so. This lets the person listening know how important the issue is to you.
When you’re talking, it’s a good idea to check every now and then that the other person understands what you’re saying.
Towards the end of the conversation, it may help to summarise what you’ve said. Especially if you’ve decided on a particular course of action or you’ve asked for help with something.
If joking about things has been part of the way you’ve coped with frightening things in the past, it might help you now. Humour has to be used carefully. But it can be a good way of coping with difficult issues and can sometimes help make situations less frightening.
Listening is an important part of communication – we all like to feel we’ve been heard, especially when talking about a serious issue. Making sure you’re comfortable and that you have enough time is important. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings and concerns. It’s quite normal to be sad and upset – this is a natural reaction to bad news. No one can be positive all the time.
Silences don’t need to be awkward, as they give you a chance to focus your thoughts. Using touch can be an important way of telling someone how you feel, and it can help you communicate emotions that aren’t easily expressed in words. There is no ‘magic formula’ or ‘right thing’ to say. Listening and talking helps people understand what others are feeling. The more you understand each other, the better the communication will be.
Our section on talking about your cancer has more information about speaking to people about your cancer, and understanding their responses. We also have more information about being there for someone with cancer that has more about listening.