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How To Share A Cancer Diagnosis

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You’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Should you tell someone? How to share a cancer diagnosis is an important question that you should think through- carefully.

As a long-term cancer survivor myself, I have gone through this…made mistakes, seen how other newly diagnosed cancer patients have handled this and I have developed strong feelings about how best to share a cancer diagnosis.

Ethnic young adult female cancer patient sipping tea while at home

Keep in mind that how you handle telling people will change over time. Newly diagnosed is different from being in various stages of treatment. I mean once I was undergoing chemo and had lost all my hair I wanted to be able to talk about it.

I have listed 9 suggestions below and several articles linked below that for the person who is newly diagnosed with cancer.

How to share a cancer diagnosis?

Sharing a cancer diagnosis is a deeply personal and challenging task, both for the person diagnosed and their loved ones. Here are some steps to consider when sharing this news:

  1. Prepare Yourself Mentally: Before you share the diagnosis, take some time to process your own emotions and thoughts about the situation. It’s okay to feel scared, anxious, or overwhelmed.
  2. Choose the Right Time and Place: Pick a time and place where you can have privacy and uninterrupted conversation. Ensure there’s enough time for discussion and emotional support afterward.
  3. Consider Who to Tell: Decide who you want to share the news with. This might include immediate family, close friends, and possibly your employer or coworkers.
  4. Be Honest and Direct: When sharing the diagnosis, be honest and straightforward. Use clear language, but also consider the emotional impact of your words.
  5. Provide Information: Offer information about the type of cancer, its stage, and the treatment plan. This can help alleviate some anxiety and uncertainty.
  6. Encourage Questions: Let the person know that you’re open to answering any questions they may have. It’s natural for people to have concerns and curiosities about the diagnosis and treatment.
  7. Offer Reassurance and Support: Assure your loved ones that you’re receiving appropriate medical care and that you’ll keep them updated on your progress. Also, let them know how they can support you during this time.
  8. Respect Their Reactions: Understand that people may react differently to the news. Some may offer immediate support, while others may need time to process their feelings.
  9. An addendum to #9: is to be prepared for some people to make stupid/silly comments. For example, don’t be surprised by replies such as “you don’t look sick” or “everything happens for a reason…” 

To elaborate a bit on the suggestions 1-9 above:

1) Prepare yourself mentally- The diagnosis will be a shock. Take some time to think through your diagnosis, the type, stage, etc.  People will ask and the type and stage is a sort of minimum of info to provide. In my experience it’s okay to simply tell people “I don’t know” or I’m talking to my Onc. about that…”

2) Choose the right time and place- After I told my parents, fiancé, etc. I called a meeting of my co-workers. Rumors were already flying so it made sense to tell my co-workers all the same basic info.

3) Consider who to tell– see # 2 above.

4) Be Honest and Direct- telling my family helped me get better at being honest and direct. So I was prepared to be honest and direct with my co-workers.

5) Provide information– I chose to keep the information to just type and stage. This one is up to you…

6) Encourage Questions- I had to push my co-workers to ask questions but I think it helped to give everyone the same information at the same time.

7) Offer Reassurance and Support– I’ll admit that I wasn’t so reassuring at first but I was once I spoke to my co-workers. My point is that it takes time to gain reassurance and support.

8 and 9 go together- 

Are you wondering how to share a cancer diagnosis? If you’d like to talk about this or most any other cancer-related issue, send me an email at David.PeopleBeatingCancer@gmail.com

Hang in there,

David Emerson 

  • Cancer Survivor
  • Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

A cancer diagnosis is a shock. Here’s advice on how to share the news

“When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, she told … well, not everyone but pretty close to it.

Marsha told me, calling from the car after a routine mammogram prompted the radiologist to (rather callously) say, “Sure looks like cancer to me.” (I added to Marsha’s dismay by insipidly saying, “Ew, that doesn’t sound good.”)

She told her mom (her dad was deceased) and her two sisters … and the family grapevine did the rest.

The news that the Princess of Wales has cancer brought back memories of those hectic first days after diagnosis.

The palace kept the information hush hush for … weeks? Months? Then Kate revealed it in a poignant video…

Perhaps that’s why some people are reluctant to tell, says Dr. Monique James, a psychiatrist who counsels patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “They think this medical diagnosis is now going to be the only thing people see.”

So anyone who’s been told they have cancer must wrestle with difficult decisions about sharing the news. Do you tell little kids in the family? Elderly relatives? Colleagues at work? All your friends and neighbors?

In the end, many people do decide to speak out. What Marsha did is pretty typical, says James. “I find that most people will share with close loved ones very early on, probably in the first week or two…””

Telling people about the cancer
  1. During the first conversation, introduce the subject gradually. ...
  2. Tell them in the way that feels best for you. …
  3. Ask what they already know. …
  4. Give the information in small chunks. …
  5. Do not worry about silences. …
  6. Say what you need to say. …
  7. Be truthful. …
  8. Think about which issues are most important to you.

Should you share your cancer diagnosis?
Even just one person to confide in and rely upon can make a big difference. “In general, I recommend that people share their diagnosis,” Dr. Ryan says. “Cancer is not something to go through alone.



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