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Home | Atlantic | About Breast Cancer | Steps to Diagnosis | Telling People About My Diagnosis

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How Do I Tell People?

When you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, telling people about your illness can be a difficult thing to do. Choosing whom to tell, and when you tell them, is a very personal decision. There is no right or wrong way to do this.

Before talking to others, take some time to consider how you feel. It’s normal to feel angry, sad, afraid or overwhelmed, and your feelings may change over time. Give yourself permission to feel the way that you do.

At first, you may decide to tell only your close family and friends. Or you may want to share the diagnosis with everyone you know. Some people prefer to have a close friend or family member tell others for them. This is your decision. The important thing is to tell people in a way that feels most comfortable for you.

Telling Children About Your Diagnosis

Telling children about a cancer diagnosis can be very difficult. They may be scared or not understand what is going on. Children of different ages will need different levels of detail and it can help to prepare how and what you will tell them ahead of time.

  • When telling young children, keep your explanations simple. Use language that they will understand

  • Explain that no one did anything wrong to cause the cancer and that cancer cannot be "caught" by another person

  • There are many books and online resources available to help guide you through explaining your diagnosis to your children. Plan ahead and consider having them available during your conversation

  • Checking in with children on a regular basis about questions or worries they may have can be a great comfort to them and helps keep the lines of communication open

Reactions To Your Diagnosis

Be prepared for people reacting differently when they hear about your diagnosis. Some will be very understanding and supportive, while others may be uncomfortable and not know what to say. Although concerned for you, some people may fear for their own health and even stay away from you. This reaction is rare, and you will likely find the most common reaction is overwhelming help and support.

Your friends and family may have a lot of questions about breast cancer and the treatments you will receive. Having to repeat the information many times can be tiring, and coming up with strategies for dealing with this ahead of time can be helpful.

You may want to refer them to credible online resources or have someone close to you who knows the information talk to them on your behalf.

Another option is to set up a website or group email that allows you to keep everyone updated all at once. There are websites for cancer patients that allow you to set up your own site and decide who can see your updates. If you cannot set this up yourself, you could ask a friend or family member to help you. Most of these websites are free and run by non-profit organizations. Websites like CaringBridge or MyLifeLine.

You may find that there are some questions or topics that are too sensitive for you to talk about. There may also be days that you just don’t want to talk about breast cancer. It may be helpful to plan responses that divert the conversation to another topic when these come up. You can also be direct and let the person know that you would prefer not to discuss this topic right now. Statements like “Thank you for your concern, but I’d rather not talk about it right now” or “Let’s talk about something else” can help steer the conversation and most people will understand and respect your wishes.

You will find your own way of dealing with these situations that works for you – there is no right or wrong way.

Some Helpful Tips

  • Take some time to understand your own feelings first. This can help you to communicate them better to your friends and family.

  • Talk about things openly. Be direct and honest. Tell your friends and family how you feel about your diagnosis. State your feelings as clearly as you can.

  • Share as much information—or as little—as you wish to. It may help you to prepare ahead of time how you will tell people about your diagnosis and how much information you wish to share. Some people may respond with lots of questions.

    • It may help you to have books or credible online resources that you can direct people to for more information.

    • Consider having a close friend or family member act as a spokesperson for you

    • Set up a website or a group email for those who you want to keep informed about your progress. This may help to avoid having to answer the same questions over and over again. 

  • Accept help. A question that you will often get is “What can I do to help?” By letting your friends and family help you, you will show them that you trust and respect them and also need them. Think of practical ways they can support you. Can they drive your kids to school during weeks when you have chemotherapyChemotherapy:
    A treatment method that uses medication to destroy cancer cells.
    treatments? Can they help with house cleaning or cooking on days where your energy is low or you may not be feeling well? With their help, you can devote more time and energy to positive and enjoyable things in your life.


Sources:

American Cancer Society. Talking with your Friends or Relatives about Your Cancer. Accessed January 4, 2014

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Ontario Region. (2008). Guiding women though a breast cancer diagnosis. A supportive and personal approach.