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Telling Friends and Family You Have Been Diagnosed with Cancer

How to Explain Your Cancer Diagnosis

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Updated April 09, 2014

Telling friends and family that you have been diagnosed with cancer is not an easy task. Not only do you have to deal with the new emotions you are feeling, but you also have to cope with the reaction of the person you are telling. This can result in added stress, which can increase your own fears and anxiety.

Do You Have to Tell Everyone?

Many people feel the need to announce their diagnosis to everyone around them when they are first diagnosed with cancer. Feeling as if everyone should know is normal; however, it's not always best. You may find that it is best to only tell those who you know will be a positive support system, such as immediate family and very close friends.

Finding the Right Words

The biggest challenge is saying the words "I have cancer." Saying those words aloud can release emotions that you may have been suppressing. Telling someone somehow makes the disease more real; it is validating. Although it may be difficult in finding the right words, it is very therapeutic, because you are admitting you are sick. This is the first step in coping with cancer-admittance.

When people first hear the word “cancer," they automatically think the worst. It is your responsibility to educate them on the extent of the disease. The more at ease and knowledgeable they are, the more effective support they can give to you. Being surrounded by people whose anxieties and fears are obvious and excessive will not allow you to cope in a healthful manner. Remember, how you are coping is more important, not how they are dealing with your disease.

Telling Your Spouse or Partner that You Have Cancer

Your spouse or partner will likely be the first person you confide in about your cancer diagnosis. He or she will likely be your caregiver during treatments and can be the best support system you have. It is important to be completely honest about your cancer and what your prognosis is. Allowing he or she to accompany you to appointments will make you feel less isolated on your journey. When you have a partner who gives you ultimate support, combating cancer begins to feel like teamwork, and you will feel empowered!

Telling Your Children that You Have Cancer

It is never easy to tell children bad news. As parents, we have a natural instinct to protect their feeling, and we often do so by omitting information. Many psychologists agree that this hurts them more in the long run, so being straight forward and honest is best.

It's important to let your children know that you have cancer and to be honest about what is cancer. Don't assume they automatically know what it is, because they often hear it on television. Explain the physical process of how it develops and what treatment you are going to have.

Some experts recommend delaying telling children until you are aware of the extent of your disease and what course of treatment you will be taking. Children understand best when they can see the whole picture, not just little pieces. Remember to be confident. Your optimism about beating cancer will reassure them.

It's also important for them to know that your disease is not contagious, and it won't affect them physically. This may even be one of the first questions they ask you. They are not being selfish. Children often hear about people catching a cold or the flu and naturally assume it may be the same for cancer.

How you explain it to your children and what information you choose for them to know depends on their age. If you have any questions about telling your children and what affect it may have, consult a child psychologist or pediatrician. He may be able to coach you on what to say and what not to say.

Telling Friends and Family

Again, be candid and honest about your disease. You can pick and choose what details you would like to share. Remember, though, these are the people who are going to be your support system. Being straightforward about your fears and anxieties are essential.
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