Voices, Well-being

How to Tell Your Family You Have Cancer

Telling your family that you have cancer can be as difficult as hearing and accepting the news was. However, you still have to deal with the subject regardless of how emotional it might be for you and your family. In addition to worrying about how they will react, you may find communicating in an open manner difficult once your family knows you have cancer. Asking for their help, telling them you need some time and space, or answering questions about how you are doing can prove uncomfortable.

“Cancer is a word, not a sentence.”

John Diamon

1Telling Your Partner

Apart from yourself, your diagnosis is likely to affect your partner the greatest. Fearing for your health and feeling concerned about what might happen is only natural. You probably have specific roles and responsibilities if you run a household together, from generating income, to preparing meals or caring for your children. Your partner might, therefore, wonder what would happen if you became incapable of handling your usual tasks. Although open communication might be difficult, you have to talk about your diagnosis and what it means for your household and relationship. Despite the uniqueness of your relationship, it might prove helpful if you did the following together:

  • Prepare for possible changes in your relationship seeing as the treatment might affect you physically and emotionally.
  • Figure out the adjustments that might be necessary for your household.
  • Try to be clear about what each of you needs.
  • Attend medical appointments together so that you both understand your diagnosis, treatment options, and potential side effects firsthand.

Telling Young Children

Although you might be tempted to keep your young kids from knowing you have cancer, experts agree that this isn’t a good idea. Without a direct explanation, your children could imagine a situation that is worse than the reality. Being honest with young children builds a sense of trust, and this might help them deal with your situation.

  • Have a framework for the conversation by planning out what you will say and how you will say it in advance. The presence of a trusted adult, such as your partner, might be helpful.
  • Use simple and direct language to define your cancer, the affected part of your body, and the mode of treatment involved.
  • Make sure they know your cancer is not their fault and that it isn’t contagious.
  • Reassure them that their every need will still be met.
  • Set a positive and optimistic tone, albeit without making promises.
  • Invite them to ask questions so that they can learn more.

Telling Older Children

Much of the advice for telling young ones applies to older children as well. However, preteen and teenage kids have additional needs since they probably know the seriousness of cancer. Older kids will, therefore, crave more information than young ones.

  • Involve them when talking about how the responsibilities and activities of your family might change while you are getting treatment.
  • Be truthful about your diagnosis, course of treatment, and breast and other cancer prognostics since they probably know that it can be fatal.
  • Prepare them for possible changes in your appearance. Preteens and teens can react inappropriately to physical changes like weight and hair loss. They can feel embarrassment or anger at how your illness affects their lives in general.

Telling Other Family Members

Informing those closest to you is important since they are the most likely source of emotional and physical support. If possible, share the news in person.

  • It might be helpful for all of you if you focus more on known facts and the treatment plan.
  • Try to anticipate what you might need since they will most likely respond by offering assistance.
  • If necessary, set limits on communication to ensure you won’t have to deal with overwhelming calls and visits. Inform them how you plan to share updates about your condition since calling your family while in the midst of treatment might not be a task you would want to take on.
Profile photo of Georgia Gables

Mother. Survivor.