Not everybody knows what to say when it comes to cancer, and sometimes they choose to say nothing rather than risk saying the wrong thing. But that silence can be frightening and isolating.

These words are from a recent interview with Katherine Jenkins, in which the world-famous classical singer talked about her experience of supporting her best friend through her cancer journey. I think her statement echoes the thoughts of many who have been affected by cancer and struggled to find their voice.

My name is Elissia, and I am currently volunteering in the Cancer Information Development team at Macmillan Cancer Support. But my role here isn’t the reason that I know how difficult talking about cancer – whatever your relationship to it – can be. When I was in my late teens, I discovered it first-hand when my dad was diagnosed with melanoma. I found it incredibly difficult to talk to others about my situation, and my friends at school remained largely unaware of what I was going through until he passed away. There were a lot of reasons why I kept quiet: I didn’t know what to say or how to start the conversation, I didn’t want to upset anyone, and most importantly I think I did not want to be treated differently by my friends because of what I was going through. Looking back I think I was scared to tell people because it would have made the situation more real to me.

These kinds of worries can prevent you from talking if you yourself have cancer too, but talking can help you in several ways, it can:

  • help you to cope with any uncertainties
  • make you feel more in control of what is happening
  • bring you closer to those around you and make you feel appreciated and supported
  • help to put things in perspective.

Our booklet Talking about your cancer provides more information and guidance on how and why to talk about your cancer, including top tips such as these on telling your family and friends:

  • introduce the subject gradually
  • tell them in a way that feels best for you
  • give information in small chunks
  • don’t be put off by silences
  • be truthful
  • don’t be alarmed by their reactions if they’re not what you expect – attitudes could include avoidance, denial, fear or discomfort.

If you’d like to talk things through further, or if you just want to chat to someone other than your family or friends, get in touch with us.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer a face-to-face conversation, you can give our new trial service Skype Buddy a go. Skype Buddy is a joint service provided by Skype and Macmillan to help people affected by cancer find someone to talk to. The buddies are all volunteers who can offer emotional support when you're going through a tough time, or just listen when you need a chat.

For me, even now, three years on, my cancer experience is not something that comes easily into conversation. It took me a year to finally talk about my dad and his cancer to my now best friend who I met at university. When I did eventually open up to her, it was a relief. It was the first time I had ever talked about my experience in detail to anyone, and it felt good to talk honestly about how I felt. Talking also strengthened our relationship and, I think, helped her to understand me better. Our discussions also helped her to support her own friend when her dad tragically died of sarcoma earlier this year. She was terrified of saying the wrong thing and was unsure of how to talk to her. My advice was simple, just be yourself. Be calm, and don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. She just needs you to be there for her, to make her laugh, cry with her, and listen to her.

If you would like more information on how to talk about cancer, our booklet Lost for words – how to talk to someone with cancer offers a lot of useful tips and advice. Or, you can talk to us.

Our website has more information and advice about talking about your cancer and talking to someone who has cancer. And in our online community you can share your experiences, meet others in similar situations, ask questions and make friends.

Knowing what to say is difficult for everyone who is affected by cancer, whether you yourself have cancer or someone close to you does. But finding the courage to talk to someone could make all the difference to your cancer journey.

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Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo