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Cancer Support: Family, Friends, and Relationships - Topic Overview

A cancer diagnosis changes your life, but it also affects the people who care about you. You're already dealing with your own distress about having cancer. And it can be hard to talk about it when you know people who care about you will be upset by the news.

You may wonder:

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  • "How can I tell my children?"
  • "How will my friends react?"
  • "How do I even begin to tell people about this?"

It helps to think about how and what you want to tell family, friends, and coworkers and to understand how people may react.

Family and friends

It may be easier if you prepare for those conversations ahead of time:

  • What do you want people to know? Think about what you do and don't want people to know about your cancer. If someone asks a question you're not ready to answer, be honest. Say something like, "I'm not really ready to talk about that," or "I don't know how I feel about that right now."
  • What topics are off-limits? Think about topics that are off-limits for you. Maybe you'd prefer that people not say things about God, religion, or faith. Or maybe you would rather not hear stories about other people who have had cancer. It's okay to say, "I know you're trying to help, but I don't find those stories very helpful right now."
  • What kind of support do you want? Many people will ask what they can do to help you. Think about how you will respond to offers of support and help. It's easy to say you don't need any help, especially when you're used to doing everything yourself and taking care of others. But supporting you will make other people feel good. And you'll probably find that you really do appreciate the help. Think about making a list of a few things that others could do for you.

Don't feel that you need to act cheerful or strong if that's not how you're feeling. It's okay to share your true feelings and act the way you feel.

Talking to your children

If you have children, you're probably worried about how they will deal with the news of your diagnosis. But it's important to talk to children of all ages about your cancer. And it's best not to pretend that everything is okay. Even young children will see that you're tired or that your routine has changed.

Try to pick a time to talk when both you and your children are feeling calm. If possible, have your partner there during the talk, or ask a friend or relative to be with you.

How much you tell your children will depend on their ages and what kind of information they can handle. Encourage them to ask questions, and answer their questions as honestly as you can.

  • Very young children only need to be told that you are sick and that your doctors are helping to make you better.
  • Young children won't need a lot of information. Remember that they usually don't have the experience to understand why cancer is so scary. Tell your children the name of the cancer you have and what part of your body it is in. Use words and terms they can understand. Give your children time to ask questions and express how they feel. Look for books or other materials that can help you explain to your children what is happening. Reassure your children that no matter what happens, someone will take care of them.
  • Teenagers are generally struggling to become independent from their parents. Finding out that you have cancer may make that process more difficult. Tell your teens what type of cancer you have, what part of your body it is in, and what type of treatment you will have. Give teens plenty of chances to talk to you. Encourage them to talk to other adults and to spend time with their friends. Be honest, and answer their questions as well as you can. Tell them how they can help you.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 07, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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