How to Tell People You Have Cancer Without Losing Your Mind

November 03, 2021
How to Tell People You Have Cancer Without Losing Your Mind

There are few things, real or imagined, that result in more terror than learning that you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer. It's no surprise then, that most of the time people don't know what to say when it happens.

Whether you're living with cancer yourself or you know someone who is, talking for the first time (or the 100th time!) about a diagnosis can be difficult. Here are a few quick tips on how to make the experience easier on both sides. 

1. Decide Why You Want to Share Your Diagnosis

Before you decide to tell people about your diagnosis, consider WHY it is that you want to share this information.  Is it because you need support and want to have your troops around you? Is it because you want to spread awareness about early screening for your particular type of cancer? Knowing what you truly want out of it can help frame how you tell people and who you tell.

2. Learn your "Trigger" Points

Everyone has "trigger points" or topics that are too sensitive for them to talk about at the moment.  Just because something is triggering you at the moment isn't reason to think that you will always be triggered by it, or won't be able to talk about it at some point.  Be kind to yourself and set boundaries that will protect your mental health.  Does it annoy you when people bring religion into it and say things like "God never gives you more than you can handle?" Do you get frustrated when people challenge your treatment protocol? Plan a response that ends conversations when they arise and be prepared to change the subject. 

3. Ask Your Loved Ones How They Feel About It

If it's not triggering to you, try to encourage friends and loved ones to express what they are feeling about your diagnosis.  You can say something like "How are you doing? This is all so hard to believe!" to give them permission to share openly.  Although it's an important part of the healing process for friends and loved ones, asking this question takes effort and emotional energy that you may or may not have. Be sure not to over extend yourself, because keeping your mental health strong is especially important right now. 

4. Give People a Task

One of the first things that friends and family members often say is "what can I do to help?" Remember that most people really do want to help, and that you'll probably need an extra hand, so have some ideas put together in advance when people ask what they can do.  Be specific about your needs, which could be scheduling dinner to be delivered, rides to the doctor, or just asking people to check in with encouraging messages.  

5. Keep Life As Normal As Possible

It's easy to feel like cancer has taken over your life when you're in the midst of treatment and learning about a new condition.  As much as you can, try to keep things normal for you and your family members.  Don't forget to pause and take time to do things you love without feeling guilty.  Children and adults can benefit greatly from a routine, which can provide an anchor in an otherwise turbulent life situation.

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