You may worry about how your family or friends will react. Will they withdraw from you? Will they blame you? Or you may worry that talking about the cancer could make things worse. You may feel guilty about the effect of the cancer and its treatment on the lives of your family and friends. Some people also feel guilty because they think they have caused the cancer themselves in some way. However, in most cases it’s not clear what’s caused someone’s cancer. There is no reason for you to blame yourself.
Although some of your family and friends may find it difficult to talk about your cancer, the best way to overcome this difficulty is often by talking. Even so, it’s not always easy telling family and friends about your illness. You may feel that you don’t know where to start but these tips may be helpful:
- Try to get the setting right. Make sure the television is turned off, the room is quiet, you are sitting comfortably and you can see each other’s face easily.
- Introduce the subject gradually, rather than just saying you have cancer straight away. You could say something like, ‘This is going to be difficult, but I need to tell you something.’ If your situation is worrying but sounds as though it will be alright in the long term, you may want to say something like, ‘I’ve had some bad news, but there’s a good chance that everything will be okay after I’ve had treatment.’
- Tell them in the way that feels best for you. There’s no easy way to tell other people you have cancer. Sometimes it’s easier to give the news over the telephone, through a letter or by email rather than face-to-face. For some people that may be the only option if you’re a long distance away.
- Ask what they already know. If you think your relative or friend is already aware of what has been happening, then it can be useful to ask them what they already know so you don’t have to repeat information. You could say, ‘You probably know some of this already, so if you tell me what you know then I can add to it.’
- Give the information in small chunks. Start with a few sentences and check every now and then that the other person understands what you’re saying before you carry on. You can ask things like, ‘Does that make sense?’ or, ‘Is that clear?’
- There will often be silences – don’t be put off by them. You, or your relative or friend, may sometimes find that you don’t know what to say. Just sitting together in the same room and perhaps holding hands can often say more than any words. If you find that a silence makes you feel uncomfortable, the easiest way to break it is with simple questions such as, ‘What are you thinking about?’
- Say what you need to say. When you tell someone close to you that you have a serious illness, they may feel very upset. You may want to be positive and cheerful to make them feel better. This is fine if your situation looks okay. But if you’re really worried about the future, don’t hide this from them to protect their feelings. They’ll want to know so they can support you.
- Be truthful. The truth may be painful for your relative or friend but it’s better for them to know the truth than find out the seriousness of your situation later on, which can lead to them feeling hurt. Tell your relatives or friends if things seem uncertain and it’s difficult to know whether your treatment will be successful. This will help them understand your situation and to support you better.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help with telling others. After telling someone close to you about your cancer, it’s normal to feel you need more time before talking about it with other relatives or friends. You may want to ask someone you’ve told if they can let others know your news. This will save you having to repeat information that you may find too difficult and emotional to talk about. If your close relative or friend is happy to do this, you can let them know what information you are happy for them to share.