Why talk about cancer?

If you have cancer, talking about it can be difficult. You may feel uncomfortable about the idea of talking about the cancer or worry about losing control of your feelings.

But talking can help you cope with uncertainties and make sense of difficult situations. It may also help you:

  • understand and express how you are feeling and why
  • be reassured that your feelings are normal
  • find the solution to a problem
  • feel more in control
  • make important decisions
  • feel supported and less anxious
  • build bonds with family and friends.

You may avoid talking to family or friends about cancer because you want to protect them from being upset. But people who care about you will want to help. Talking with them about the cancer and your feelings will help them feel valued.

Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone you do not know. You could join a support group, have a talking therapy or get support online.

There may be times when you do not want to talk. Don’t be afraid to tell people when you would prefer to talk about other things.

Talking about a cancer diagnosis

After being diagnosed with cancer, you may find the idea of talking about it upsetting or uncomfortable. It may take you some time to cope with your diagnosis. Remember, there is not a right way to cope.

Putting feelings into words may seem overwhelming. But it is important to think about who needs to know and the best way to talk to them about it. This can help you get the support you need at home, at work and from your healthcare team. It can also help you to make decisions that are right for you.

Many people don’t like talking about their own needs. But it is okay and important to confide in others. Some people fear they will be seen as demanding. However, there will often be friends and relatives who want to help. Try starting a conversation and saying what you need, even if you just want them to listen. You may be surprised at how willing they are to support you. By asking for someone’s support, it shows that you value them.

The benefits of talking

Talking can help you cope with uncertainties or difficulties that are ahead. It can give you support and help you have some control over your situation.

We explain some of the possible benefits of talking here.

Understand how you are feeling and why

If you don’t talk about how you are feeling, you may feel confused. Putting your thoughts into words will often help you understand what you are feeling and why.

Express how you are feeling

You may feel overwhelmed with lots of worries. Talking about how you are feeling can help with this.

Be reassured that your feelings are normal

You may have lots of different emotions. Having someone listen to you without judgement may reassure you that what you are feeling is normal.

Find the solution to a problem

Talking with another person may help you think of solutions you may not have thought of on your own.

Feel more in control

Talking about any problems may make you feel more confident about dealing with difficult issues in the future. It may also make you feel better about having hard conversations.

Make important decisions

If you have to make decisions that affect others, you may assume you know what other people are thinking or feeling. But sometimes they surprise you with their views and can help you make tough decisions.

Feel more supported and less anxious

If you feel someone else understands, cares and is there for you, it may reassure you that you are not going through difficult times alone.

Build bonds with your family and friends

Talking about personal issues with people close to you and including them in important decisions often makes them feel valued.

I think the one thing that got me through treatment was being able to talk about it. To have everyone talking openly was really important.


Things that make it hard to talk

Being diagnosed with cancer is often a life-changing experience. It can have a huge effect on your emotions, as well as on the practical aspects of your life.

Many people used to think cancer shouldn’t be talked about. But things have changed and it is now talked about in magazines, on TV and on the internet. However, there are several reasons why talking about the cancer may still be difficult:

  • You may be afraid you will lose control of your feelings. Before you talk to other people, you may want to spend time thinking about how you feel. Writing any issues down may help you prioritise them.
  • Your family and friends may find it hard to talk about the cancer because they are struggling to accept your illness.
  • Some people have never had a serious illness or known anyone who has. They may be unsure of what you need or how to talk to you.
  • You may be afraid of losing your job or being discriminated against at work. We have more information about talking with your employer about cancer.
  • You may feel your healthcare team are too busy to talk about your feelings. We have information about talking to healthcare staff.
  • You may live alone or have no one close to talk to. We have information about connecting with other people if you feel lonely or isolated.

Who can you talk to?

Think about who you usually talk with about important issues or difficult problems. This is probably the best person to talk with. They could be anyone – your partner, your closest friend, a family member, a work colleague, a counsellor or a religious leader. It may be somebody who is going through or been through a similar experience.

Family, friends and people you work with

Some people have a close circle of family and friends who can give them a lot of support. Or close relationships with people they work with. But even with supportive people around you, it may be hard to talk about cancer. You may feel isolated.

We have tips on telling family and friends about your diagnosis and asking for support.

Some people may have disagreements in their family or have friends that live far away. They may work alone or not get along with people they work with. If you are in this situation, you may feel there is no one for you to talk to.

It may be easier to talk with someone you don’t know. You may feel less pressure to act a certain way. You may also feel safe knowing that they will not share the conversation with your friends or family. If you feel this way, you could:

Psychological support helped me understand that my feelings weren’t wrong or bad. Talking about those things really helped me deal with them.


Macmillan's Online Community

Macmillan's Online Community

Macmillan's Online Community is a place for people affected by cancer to come together, share stories, find information and support each other.

Join Macmillan's Online Community

Macmillan's Online Community

Macmillan's Online Community is a place for people affected by cancer to come together, share stories, find information and support each other.

Join Macmillan's Online Community

If you don’t want to talk

There may be times when you don’t feel like talking and want to be on your own. Don’t feel that you have to see people if you don’t want to or if you need time to yourself.

Allow other people to go to the door or answer the phone for you. If you are in hospital, you may want to save your energy to cope with treatment. It may help to limit the number of visitors you have. You can ask a relative or the nurses to help you with this.

Dealing with family and friends

You may not want to talk about the cancer, but people you care about may want to. If this happens, try to be open and honest with your family and friends. Let them know that it is hard for you to talk. You could tell them there may be a limit to how much you feel able to share.

If family or friends want to talk about the cancer when you don’t, it can cause conflict. We have information about dealing with people’s reactions to the cancer. It includes tips on resolving conflict in relationships.

It is up to you how much you want to talk about your diagnosis. For example, if you are going out to enjoy yourself with your friends, don’t be afraid to tell them that you would rather not talk about cancer today. Or you could say that you will bring it up if you want to discuss it.

However, not talking about the cancer at all can cause problems if it goes on for weeks or months. It may become difficult to make decisions about treatment or decisions about your employment situation. This can delay the start of your treatment, cause financial difficulty and make relationships worse.

We have information about dealing with difficult feelings. We also have advice for family and friends about talking with someone who has cancer.

I couldn’t watch adverts about cancer or read stories about anyone having cancer, because I felt like I had never actually sat down and spoken about what I went through.


Back to If you have cancer

Talking and relationships

Discussing concerns with your partner can help you feel supported. Allow yourselves time and privacy.