Talking to people about your cancer

Deciding who to tell about your cancer and what to tell them will involve some difficult and important choices. You might not want or need to tell anyone about the cancer. But you may find telling people helpful in lots of ways.

If you’re self-employed it is likely that many people rely on you to deliver a service. So they may be indirectly affected by your situation. You may need to tell people such as customers, suppliers or employees about your illness. You’ll have to decide who you need to talk to and just how much they need to know.

Talking to people about your cancer may be unpleasant but it could help them to support you. It could help them understand if you need longer deadlines for example. You may also have to tell them if your condition affects your contract with them.

Some people may find it easy to talk about their condition and their feelings, others are more private. It helps to think ahead about what you want to say and prepare for the conversation.

Who to tell

When you’re self-employed, other people may rely on you to deliver your goods or services, and to pay for theirs. They may need to know that you have cancer. You’ll have to balance the impact of the cancer and your feelings about telling people with the needs of your business. For example, if the cancer affects your work in any way, your insurance could become invalid if you don’t tell your insurer about it. On the other hand, some people may not need to know, and it’s your choice whether to tell them or not.

While it can be hard to tell people about the cancer, it can mean they’ll be able to give you support, both practically and emotionally. If you can, it may help to take some time to think about the pros and cons of telling people. The following table may help you decide what to do.

Reasons to tell people about your cancerReasons to limit what you say
They will understand why you need longer deadlines or more time to pay.They may worry you are not reliable.
You could find them very supportive and get practical help.You might want privacy, and you can’t guarantee everyone will respect this.
It might prevent embarrassing mistakes or misunderstandings on their part.The conversation might get emotional in situations where it’s not beneficial to you or your business.
You might have to tell the other person, because it affects or protects your contract with them.The other person or organisation might not respect your rights or treat you fairly (see the Equality Act for more information).

It may help to put yourself in the other person’s place, and try to imagine what their concerns and reactions might be. Then you can be ready with some suggestions or information, which may help deal with any worries they have.

We have a section called talking about your cancer, which you may find helpful.

PersonWhat they might worry about
Friends or familyWill you be okay? How can I help?
That’s a shock. What do I say now?
CustomerWill you be able to do the work? And will it be on time?
Will the work be of the same standard?
What happens if our agreement doesn’t work out?
What are my health and safety responsibilities? (If you work on their premises or are a sub-contractor).
SupplierWill you be able to pay me? Will it be on time?
What are my alternatives?
When will things get back to normal?
Banker or creditorCan you meet your payments? How? When?
Are you now a higher credit risk?
What are my duties to the bank and my legal responsibilities?
What will happen if you can’t make payments?
What alternative arrangement could be made?
EmployeeDoes this mean the business will close down?
Will you be able to pay me?
Will my workload increase or decrease, and can I cope with that?

Good communication

Everyone has different ways of communicating. Some people naturally like to talk about their thoughts and feelings, while others are quite private. Cultural differences matter, too.

If you do decide to tell someone about your cancer, these tips may help:

  • Think ahead about what you’re going to say. You could write down a few bullet points, especially if you will be talking on the phone.
  • Choose your time wisely. Are you feeling up to it today? Will the other person have time to pay proper attention?
  • Is it better to tell the person over the phone or face-to-face? If face-to-face will be better, choose somewhere you feel comfortable to tell them.
  • Be prepared for the emotions they may feel. You may not know about their past experiences and can’t predict how they will take it. Your own feelings might surface, too.
  • Be careful about telling people in writing. It’s easy to get the wrong idea from an email or note, and it can seem impersonal.

You can decide who to tell, what to tell them and how much you want them to know. Ask people to respect your privacy and make it clear if you want them to keep anything to themselves. Be aware that this might put them in an awkward situation, though. If you have a business partner, it might be easier or more appropriate for them to tell the people who need to know. It may not be fair to ask an employee to tell others about your situation, but make sure they know how to respond and who to turn to for advice if anyone does ask questions.

As with any big decisions at this time, you may want to talk to someone you trust and ask for their opinion before you go ahead. You can ask a professional adviser, such as your accountant. Make sure you have important conversations when you are at your best and be clear what your goals are before you talk to them.

You may find it helpful to watch some of our cancer in the workplace videos at

You may also be interested in our resource, The essential work and cancer toolkit. It is mainly aimed at managers and employees in large organisations, but you may find some of the information it contains useful.

Back to If you are self-employed

Self-employment and cancer

If you’re self-employed, you may worry about work and money during cancer treatment. Support is available to help you cope.

Working during treatment

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Making treatment decisions

When you’re self-employed, you may have particular questions about treatment decisions and how they could impact on your work.

Managing your workload

Cancer treatment can have an impact on the way you run your business. You may need to reorganise your activities to manage your workload.

Managing your finances

If you’re self-employed, you may worry about your finances. Support is available to help you.