Supporting women whose lives have been touched by breast cancer

Guide to how you should react when I tell you I have cancer

by LL


Having to tell family and friends that you have cancer is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and, in many ways, harder for me than receiving the diagnosis in the first place. I have now just had my third cancer diagnosis and, I can assure you, it doesn’t get any easier even with practice!!

However, this time, I was expecting the diagnosis and so it hasn’t knocked me back as hard as previously and has allowed me to be less emotional and more able to observe the reactions of the people I am telling.

I have decided that it is the people I am telling that are struggling with it the most. I have had a variety of reactions from people and feel like writing a guide on what to do and say to a family member or friend when they tell you that they have cancer! Firstly, remember that it is as hard for me to tell you that I have cancer as it is for you to hear this news. I feel as if I have somehow let everyone down but I am not sure how or why.

Please don’t collapse into floods of tears and sob out loud, that really isn’t helpful to me and it means that I then have to slip back into my “brave person” mode to comfort you and reassure you that I will be fine. I don’t mind if you shed a few gentle tears - I might join you in that but don’t worry, I won’t become a hysterical wreck.

Some people feel the need to say a lot of things but please don’t tell me about your distant cousin’s wife who died of cancer or go into detail of the old boy down the road who endured such suffering!! Please do tell me about people who have a positive story, that is helpful for me. Don’t be afraid to ask me questions if you want to know the answers; I am happy to talk about my treatment and what the future might hold. Sometimes I want to tell you because it is helpful for me to talk about it, but stop me if you don’t want to hear it.

If you don’t know what to say, then just say ‘I don’t know what to say’. Please don’t ignore me or avoid me because you are afraid of what I am going to tell you. If that is the way you feel, just give me a hug - that means more than anything.

If you say “If there is anything I can do to help...” please make sure you mean it as I may accept your offer. I am a very independent person but there may be times when I will need a lift somewhere or need some shopping dropped off.

Most of all, just treat me the same as you always have. I am not a different person or a “sick” person. I just want my life and my routine to be as much the same as it always was as this is helpful for me to keep some sanity in this emotional whirlwind.