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Talking to Your Friends and Adult Family Members

4512824You will need to decide whom you want to tell about your cancer and how closely you want to involve them in your cancer journey. Some people will tell anyone and everyone, including strangers on the Internet, and feel comfortable sharing the details of their cancer experience with anyone who’s interested. Others don’t want to worry or upset their friends and family and keep their diagnosis or treatments more or less private until it is no longer realistic to do so. You may also feel too overwhelmed yourself to handle the reactions of the people in your life and hesitate to begin talking to them as a result. However, you will likely need the support of your friends and family at some point, and they may be upset if you don’t tell them, so it is probably a good idea to make a plan for communicating your circumstances to those who care about you. Your best coping strategies for handling the emotions and challenges of cancer treatment and recovery are maintaining strong family relationships and a large active social network.1, Depression (PDQ): Health professional version. National Cancer Institute – PDQ Cancer Information Summaries. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0032529/.2 Kroenke CH,Quesenberry C,Kwan ML, et al. Social networks, social support, and burden in relationships, and mortality after breast cancerdiagnosis in the Life After BreastCancerEpidemiology (LACE) Study. BreastCancerRes Treat.2012 Nov 10.

Make a plan

It may help to be methodical about talking to friends and family members. Make a list of who needs to be contacted first. Put the list in order of priority, beginning with people who may be most upset if they found out about your diagnosis from someone else, such as your parents, siblings or your best friend. Though you could make your announcement to everyone at once, such as with an email blast, telling people who love you that you have cancer may be better done in person or with a phone call. This can be time-consuming and stressful if you have a large family and many friends. Encourage family members to tell extended family on your behalf and friends to tell other friends. If you want the news confined to a small inner circle for now, be sure to make that clear to the people you tell about your situation.

Think about what you want to say and how you’ll say it to the different people in your life. You might even rehearse a couple of times to get your own emotions under control and find the best way to have the conversation. People’s reactions may vary widely. Consider how you might address a variety of responses and questions. Keep in mind that some people have little or no experience with a life-threatening illness and don’t know what to say or how to react to someone they care about having cancer. It can also be frightening to them as it’s a reminder that cancer can happen to anyone. Try to be understanding if their responses upset you. Give them time to process their emotions, which could be as intense as yours were when you found out that you had cancer. You may even find yourself comforting them. While this may seem backwards, it can actually help you to discover more strength and new coping strategies to handle your own emotions.

In this context, it’s important to remember that how your friends and family react to you having cancer is often a reflection of how much they care about you.

Ongoing communication

For ongoing communication with your friends and family, you might use this site to share your status updates, or delegate ongoing communication about your treatment and condition to your primary caregiver or another person in your close circle. Now social media or email blasts may be appropriate so that communicating with people who want to know how you’re doing doesn’t become too much of a burden. It is nice to have a strong support system, but it is okay to tell your friends and family when you need time and space to yourself.

Some tips for helping communication with friends and family include:

  • Take the lead in talking about cancer; this can be helpful, as they may not know what to say. If you feel like it, bring the subject up and let them know it’s okay to talk about it.
  • Reassure your friends and family that you don’t expect answers, and you’d just like them to listen and try to understand your feelings. You may also wish to share your guidebook for specific pages from this website so they can become better educated about head and neck cancer.
  • Prepare a list of ways they can help, as many friends and family will want to help you but may not know where to start.
  • Try to maintain social contact and involvement. Your friends and family may assume you don’t want to be invited to social events, but letting them know to keep inviting you can be helpful. Don’t be afraid to cancel plans if you are physically or emotionally tired.
  • Talk about funny stories. It can feel good to laugh with your friends.

Handling unwanted advice

Sometimes people offer unwanted advice. They probably just want to help, but it can become very frustrating and stressful to have friends or family members constantly questioning your treatment decisions, urging you to go to a different cancer treatment center or nagging you to try dietary supplements or other nonmedical remedies they’ve heard about. You can ignore the unwanted advice or politely thank them and reassure them that you are working closely with a cancer care team you trust and you plan to continue making decisions based on their expertise.3 When someone you love has advanced cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/when-someone-you-love-has-advanced-cancer/page1/AllPages - f5.

The thing to do is to have a full understanding of your condition (and treatment) and be able to give your family a full and clear understanding.Barry J. (tongue cancer survivor)

References

1 Depression (PDQ): Health professional version. National Cancer Institute – PDQ Cancer Information Summaries. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0032529/.

2 Kroenke CH,Quesenberry C,Kwan ML, et al. Social networks, social support, and burden in relationships, and mortality after breast cancerdiagnosis in the Life After BreastCancerEpidemiology (LACE) Study. BreastCancerRes Treat.2012 Nov 10.

3 When someone you love has advanced cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/when-someone-you-love-has-advanced-cancer/page1/AllPages - f5.