Talking about cancer

Talking about cancer

Talking about cancer is not easy. You don’t necessarily know what to say. And it is not easy to predict how others will react to a cancer diagnosis, treatment results or a recurrence of the disease. You may be afraid to start crying, or you may think that talking about your emotions is a sign of weakness. You might also avoid sharing your feelings so as not to upset or worry your loved ones.

But it is good to talk. It can help you to understand your own emotions better and have more control over the situation. It can also strengthen your relationship with your loved ones and give them a clearer picture of what you are going through. And this is the first thing you should do to get support from them. Just the fact that someone is listening to you can give you some comfort. Once they know what you are going through, the people around you will probably want to support you in any way they can.

There is no right or wrong way to talk about cancer. Depending on the relationship you have with each person in your life, you can decide who you talk to and what you say. Here are some practical tips for talking about cancer:

Set the stage. Decide who you want to tell about your diagnosis, and how – in person or over the phone. Think about what you want to say and what details you may or may not want to share. Try to anticipate the questions you will be asked and prepare some simple answers. You don’t have to answer everything; it is up to you to decide what you want to keep to yourself.

Be as honest as possible about how you feel. You are allowed to feel whatever you feel. You don’t have to protect people by hiding your fears. Expressing them is very healthy. If your feelings are confused, say so. Once you break the ice, talking may be easier than you thought.

Facilitate a conversation in private and in a quiet setting. When you feel ready to talk, find a good, quiet time and place where your conversation will not be interrupted. Turn off the television, computer and mobile phones. Close the door.

Ask someone else to be there to support you. Sometimes it can be helpful to have someone with you who already knows about the situation. This person can then support you and help you answer questions.

Start the conversation. First tell the person that you have something serious to tell them.

Share the information gradually. Bad news is easier to absorb when it is delivered gradually, a few sentences at a time. Make sure the person understands what you are saying.

Don’t force things. There may be times when you don’t feel like talking – that’s normal. If this happens to you, just say so. Also consider the mood of others if they are not ready or willing to talk.

Don’t worry if there are moments of silence. You may find that holding hands or sitting quietly together says enough. If silence makes you uncomfortable, you can ask the other person a question as simple as, “What are you thinking?

Choose someone to speak for you. Constantly talking about your diagnosis or giving news about treatment can be exhausting. You don’t have to tell everyone everything yourself; you can ask a friend or family member to spread the word to the people you choose.

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If talking is too difficult, there are other ways to share your thoughts and feelings.

Email and social media. Email and social media allow you to share your news with time to choose your words carefully, without having to repeat the same information to different people. This way of communicating can also be less emotionally demanding. You also have the option of asking someone else to write and reply to your emails, or to publish your news.

Shared tablet or notebook. Sharing a tablet or other means of communication can allow one person to describe their emotions and read what others are feeling, without having to talk about it.

Different forms of art. To express your emotions, you can also write songs or poems, or find ones that have been written by others. Or create a painting, drawing or sculpture that represents how you feel.

Physical presence. Sometimes you just want someone to be there so you can sit quietly next to each other, hold hands, hug, cry together or have a shoulder to rest on.


There may be times when you just don’t feel like talking about cancer. Continuing to do your daily tasks may be the best way for you to cope with the disease. Talking about cancer may add to your stress at a time when you need all your energy to cope with treatment.

If this is how you are feeling now, explain to those around you that you will let them know when you feel like talking.

With acquaintances and colleagues, it may be easier and less embarrassing to say just a few words without going into detail. Give them a short but frank answer and tell them you appreciate their kindness.

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If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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