How to Tell Someone You Have Cancer

While it is natural to wish to protect friends and family from the stresses that accompany a cancer diagnosis, discussing cancer with loved ones can help ease the burden and reduce anxiety for everyone involved. 

Anyone dealing with cancer wants the love and support of a spouse, parent, child, or best friend, but it can be hard to share the news initially. Start by letting them know what kind of cancer you have and what the next steps are. Honesty is the best policy, even with younger family members.

Be prepared to answer questions. Open communication with your friends and family will be key as your daily routine changes and you progress through treatment. Talk with them regularly. Be clear about how they can support you, and ask your loved ones to do the same.

Telling Children About Cancer

Children will likely know that something is wrong even if you don’t talk with them directly about cancer. Sitting down and speaking with them about it can help them feel secure and limit misinformation and fear.

Age: Under 3

Infants and toddlers are unlikely to understand what cancer is. A simple comment such as, “I don’t feel well and am going to the doctor to get better,” is appropriate. Keep routines as normal as possible, ensure their needs are being met, and answer any questions they ask simply and honestly.

Age: 3 to 5

At this age, children are typically able to comprehend what cancer is when it is explained using age-appropriate language. You may need to repeat the information in several different ways. Consider using pictures or toys to talk about what cancer is and how you are going to fight it.

Let children know that you are seeing a doctor to get better. Reassure them that cancer is not contagious and that they didn’t do anything to cause it.

Age: 6 to 12

By this age, children are able to understand what cells are and may also start doing their own research on cancer once they know you are ill. Prevent misinformation from causing issues by talking about your diagnosis regularly. Use books and trusted sources of information. Remind children that not everything they see online is true.

Most children have a concept of death by this age, so it is important that you address this openly. Reassure children that doctors help a lot of people overcome their cancer.

Age: 13 to 18

When you talk to teenage children about your cancer diagnosis, it is also important to address how it affects them emotionally. Discuss how things will change at home and if there are any new responsibilities teens will need to take on while you receive treatment and recover. Check in regularly to avoid misunderstandings, and watch for behavioral issues such as anxiety and poor decision-making.

Austin Cancer Center offers a range of cancer support services for cancer patients and their families. For more information, call (512) 508-8511.