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Telling friends and family

It is up to you how much detail to share

Telling friends and family

Most people will experience strong emotions after a cancer diagnosis, not only after the initial diagnosis but also during and after treatment.

It can also be difficult to tell people you have cancer. You may feel uncomfortable talking about personal things or be unsure of how people will react or want to protect loved ones.

It is up to you how much detail to share and when to share it but hiding your diagnosis probably won’t work as sooner or later, friends, family and colleagues will learn that you have cancer. By telling people you can take control of what information to give, prevent misunderstandings and allow people to offer support.

How to tell family and friends

When you are ready, decide who to tell and what to say. And be prepared that the person you are telling may get upset and need comfort even though you are the one with cancer. You may want to:

  • choose a quiet place
  • think of answers to likely questions
  • get help finding the right words – you could meet with a hospital social worker or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for support

Talking to kids about cancer

Talking to kids can feel overwhelming. Your first reaction may be to keep the diagnosis from them or delay telling them. But being open and honest helps children to cope with the news.

Children are observant. No matter how hard you try to hide a cancer diagnosis, most children will suspect something is wrong. They will notice changes at home such as your sadness or stress, whispered conversations, closed doors or changes to family schedules. Even young children will work out that there is a secret. Not know the reason for the secret may leave them feeling disconnected from people without knowing why.

Children’s understanding of illness and their reactions to bad news will vary depending on their age and temperament. It can be a challenging time for kids and you may wonder how they will get through it. We can’t stop kids from feeling sad, but if we share our feelings and give them information about what is happening, we can support them.

For more information, download or order a free copy of our booklet, Talking to Kids About Cancer.

Cancer in the school community

Every school is a community connecting students, parents, guardian and family members with teachers, principals and other school staff. When someone in a school community is diagnosed with cancer, people usually want to help.

Talking about cancer is never easy and it can be challenging to balance a person’s right to privacy with the need for others to know about their diagnosis. It’s a good idea to use your school’s existing wellbeing and communication guidelines.

You may find it useful to download or order a free copy of Cancer in the School Community:

Cancer in the workplace

Many cancer patients will continue to work during treatment and recovery. People caring for someone with cancer may also continue working. Colleagues often don’t know what to say or how to help.

Talking to your employer about cancer

Telling your employer that you have cancer is a personal decision. There is no law that says you have to tell your employer but you do have some obligations. You have to tell your employer about anything that will affect your ability to do your work, or could cause a health and safety risk for yourself or other people. Keeping your diagnosis could increase your stress. Being open may:

  • let you discuss the support you need
  • help you find out about nay benefits you can access
  • make it easier to organise flexible working arrangements
  • reduce the risk that any impacts on your work may be seen as poor work performance.

For more information download or order a free copy of Cancer, Work and You from Cancer Council:

Talking to your employee about cancer

As a manager, your first conversation with an employee about their cancer can feel daunting. People communicate in different ways so you will need to tailor your approach to the individual employee and situation. Your employee may be hesitant to discuss details of their cancer as they may want to keep personal information private, be concerned that the diagnosis may lead to reduced working hours or job loss or even have specific cultural beliefs about cancer. Let your employee guide the conversation.

For more information and support download Cancer Council’s fact sheet Talking to Your Employee About Cancer:

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