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Telling friends and family you have cancer

Sarah Kelsey is a lifestyle writer, editor and spokesperson based in Toronto. She was the editor of AOL/The Huffington Post Canada’s StyleList, Style and Living sites. Today, she's a freelancer writing for some of North America’s top pub...

Breaking the news

A cancer diagnosis comes with a whole mixed bag of emotions, a new vocabulary, a new routine. Breaking the news to friends and family about your cancer can be difficult.

Breaking the news
Pick the moment

This initial conversation should happen at the right time. If your friend or loved one has had a bad day (or is already stressed or emotional), save it for another time. And keep the discussion private, quiet and focused. Turn off the TV, phone or radio, and shut the door.

Don't shock

Hearing that you have cancer won't be easy for anyone who cares about you. Therefore, you need to ease into the discussion slowly and gently. Start off by saying you have something serious you want to talk about, or mention, "You know how I went to see my doctor the other day?"

Choose who to tell

You don't have to tell everyone right off the bat that you have cancer. Start with your partner and children, then choose who you want to inform from there.

Expect silence

When you tell someone you have cancer, she may go silent. Don't panic. She is probably just trying to find the right words. Encourage her to say what's on her mind and to ask questions.

Give information in chunks

Instead of blurting out, "I have cancer," then rushing through everything your doctor said, take control of the conversation and slow it down. Give your loved one information one sentence at a time. He'll be more able to process what you're saying and will feel more comfortable about asking questions.

Be honest

Particularly when dealing with children, be honest about what you're going through and what they can expect. Also, be sure to say everything you want to say. Talk about your feelings, as well as the seriousness of the situation. Your inner circle of support -- your friends and family -- will need to know as much as they can about your diagnosis.


You've probably had time to research information about your cancer online, or maybe your doctor gave you some research when you received your diagnosis. Pass whatever details you have along to loved ones. Direct them to popular medical journals or online cancer sites like that of the American Cancer Society. This way, they can research your condition and will feel more in control of how to help you.

Enlist help from others

Friends or loved ones will probably jump to your aid the moment they hear you've been diagnosed. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Get them to spread the news or answer questions from extended friends or coworkers. This will take a little of the pressure off of you. 

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