Talking to people - Maggie's Centres

Talking to people

Having cancer can mean you need to talk about your diagnosis with other people – friends and family, work colleagues and the wider community.

Who you tell, and what information you give, is personal to your own situation, but it can feel difficult at times.

Not only do you have your own emotions to deal with, but the reactions of others may mean you end up supporting them too.

Finding out that you, or someone you care about has cancer can be a shock, even if you’d been expecting the news. You’ll experience a range of feelings, or perhaps feel numb, and a sense of disbelief. It can take time for you to absorb the news. 

Many people worry about telling family and friends about their cancer. You may wonder how they’ll react, and perhaps want to protect them from what is going on. Sometimes it is hard to speak about your diagnosis, as talking about it makes it feel real. You may not feel up to handling difficult conversations at first. 

Living with cancer, at any stage, means that there will be times when cancer conversations need to take place. It may be with healthcare professionals, focusing on questions you may have, treatment decisions and information giving. You may be working, retired or a student, and need to talk employers, benefits advisors and others about what is going on for you. 

On a more emotional and personal level, your family and friends will feel more connected, if you’re able to talk openly about what is going on. They may be worried, but feel they shouldn’t ask questions or discuss the cancer with you. Sometimes, you may find they don't want to talk about what is going on, or change the subject when you raise it. Often it is because they don't know what to say, or feel they won’t be able to manage their emotions. Alternatively, you may not feel ready to talk about your cancer, and feel isolated because you’re having to manage the worry alone. 

If you’re a parent, grandparent or other relative, you may be wondering how to talk to children about your cancer. Whilst these are difficult conversations to have, it helps both you and your children. Children will know something is going on, and it can help them cope, by feeling included in your news and what is happening for you. 

Different ages may need information given in different ways, as children’s understanding can vary. You can find out more about talking to children about cancer  on our talking to children page.

The benefits of talking about cancer are that you can feel supported by sharing your feelings and emotions. Your family and friends will feel more involved, and you’ll draw closer together. 

How to talk to others about cancer

As you think about about talking to others about your cancer, remember that:-

  • Sharing your situation with family and friends gives them an opportunity to help and share their feelings with you.
  • Although you may worry about upsetting others, keeping the diagnosis to yourself can isolate you. Telling those closest to you can share the worry as most people do care and want to be there for you.
  • People will react differently and it is often hard for them to know how to act towards you , they may need some time  and you may need to help them too.
  • Do what feels right for you and your situation, either at home or at work.

When should I tell people?

Only you will know when it feels right to talk with your family and friends about your cancer. You may find you need to process the news yourself, before telling others. It can help to think about what you will say. Telling them about your type of cancer, and the treatment plan is a good place to start. It’s something practical to focus on.

Who should I tell?

1. Family and friends

People often start by telling those closest to them first. This is often a spouse or partner. Sometimes it’s hardest to talk to those closest to you, and it may be helpful to plan your conversation, with the help of a healthcare professional you could talk with your specialist nurse or come into Maggie's and talk ith one of our professional team.

You can then think about who else you want to tell, perhaps your close family and friends. Cancer conversations can be exhausting, as you may find you’re having to repeat the same information to a variety of contacts. You may find it easier to let someone close to you notify your wider circle of family and friends.

2. Employment/college/school

If you’re working, then letting your employers know can help extend your support network. Your employers (or tutors if you’re a student) can then be more flexible with working hours, and understand that your concentration may be affected.

Work colleagues don’t all need to know, but you may find it helpful to tell those that you work with most often. You can either tell them together, or individually - you’ll know what works best for you. Colleagues can be a good extra layer of support.

If you’re a parent, letting your child’s school or college know, can help the teachers support them at school, and understand if they are withdrawn, acting differently or their work is affected.

Plan ahead

Prepare a list of tasks that people might be able to help you with. Your friends and family may offer help, and it’s better to offer something specific that they can do. This might be either practical , such as transport, shopping, childcare, pet care or to meet up with for support and a chat. Thereare also Apps for your phone  to help with this.

You may also find you have lots of questions yourself about your cancer, which crop up in conversation with others. Write the questions down, and then you can ask your healthcare team.

Talking about cancer - your support

Some of the conversations you’re facing may feel very difficult. Sometimes, talking about your cancer with those closest to you, can feel too painful. It can often be easier talking to someone who isn’t directly affected and can offer support and advice. 

This might be with a support group (locally or online), or cancer forums. You could drop into your local Maggie’s Centre and talk with one of our cancer support specialists, and meet others who are going through a similar experience. 

If you’re finding the feelings stress around your cancer is affecting you day to day, then you may benefit from counselling. Your GP may be able to refer you for local counselling and our cancer support specialists and psychologists at Maggie’s can help.

I don’t feel like talking

Those closest to you may know you well, and recognise that you’re withdrawn or keeping your worries to yourself. If they mention their concerns to you, this can be the chance for you to open up. Sharing your thoughts and fears can give them an opportunity to listen, support you, and perhaps share their feelings too.

However, there may be days when you find that you want to talk about normal things. Your family and friends may not always realise this, so it can help to let them know that you’re still you, and you’d like to talk about other things apart from the cancer for while. Explain to them that you will talk about your cancer when you’re ready. 

Support for family and friends

If you’re a family member or friend of someone with cancer, you are likely to have worries, anxieties and concerns too. You may find talking with the person you care about difficult, or are not sure what to say. Finding support for you is important too. Maggie’s centres offer a listening ear, and space for you to talk through your concerns, with people who understand. 

When to seek further help

The feelings you experience with cancer can be intense. It is normal to feel a range of emotions. Sometimes, it may feel unreal, as if it’s not really happening.  It may take time for you to feel ready to talk.  Some people find they focus on the practical, and push their feelings to one side whilst they deal with the immediate situation. There isn’t a right or wrong way to react. 

However, if you find you’re withdrawn, low in mood,  or anxious for more than a few days, then do let your doctor know. They will be able to help, and may refer you for counselling and other medical support.  You can also drop into your local Maggie’s Centre, to talk through how you feel, and for to have more ‘one to one’ support.

What now?

Have a look at our blogs and links on this page to find out more about talking to others about cancer.

Talk with others about what you are experiencing. It can help to hear that what you’re feeling is not unusual, and help you feel less alone. Call into your local Maggie’s, or join our online forums to connect with others in a similar position to yourself.

Talking in our online forums or in our centres and sharing experineces  can help you feel less alone.

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