‘I found it an enormous relief to be able to talk to someone about my feelings.’             


Talking about your cancer may be one of the most helpful and rewarding things you choose to do. Putting fears and feelings into words helps us understand them better and leaves us feeling more in control. Discussing important and personal things also creates a bond between people. This makes us feel appreciated and supported.

This week is Cancer Talk Week, and in this blog we’re focusing on families: how they can be the hardest people to talk to about your diagnosis, but also how they can be your most important source of support.

Why it’s hard to talk

Many of us don’t like talking about our problems because we don’t want to seem needy, demanding or attention-seeking. Or we may want to protect people from being upset. But many friends and relatives will want to help. And we show how much we value someone when we ask for their support.

Talking to family and friends

It may be difficult, but these tips can help start things off:

  • Choose a quiet and comfortable setting
  • Gradually introduce the subject rather than reveal it suddenly
  • Choose whichever way feels best for you - phone, email, letter or face-to-face
  • Ask what they already know and then add to it
  • Give the information in small chunks, checking the other person understands before carrying on
  • Don’t be put off by silences
  • Be honest so your family and friends understand your situation and support you better
  • Ask your family or friends to tell others if this is easier

Our booklet Talking about your cancer discusses common reactions to a cancer diagnosis, how your family and friends may be feeling, and practical tips to help you talk more easily.

Talking to your partner

Discussing your feelings, practical problems and the effect of cancer on your sexuality can be an important way to help you and your partner cope. A simple discussion can make a big difference and will help you understand how the other person is feeling.

Our leaflet Cancer, you and your partner explains how cancer may affect your relationship and discusses what can help you both.

Talking to children

Children often cope with difficult news better than we think they will. Talking to them will make them feel less anxious and more secure. It shows you trust them and it gives them permission to ask questions and talk about their feelings. You may also feel closer to your children if you let them support you.

Our booklet Talking to children when an adult has cancer gives practical advice on explaining cancer to children, ways to help them cope and how to deal with changes to family life. It’s also available as an audiobook.

If a family member or friend has cancer

Knowing what to say when someone close to us has been diagnosed with cancer can be difficult. But the most important thing is to be there and to listen. Lost for words – how to talk to someone with cancer is a booklet for family and friends. It gives advice on talking to someone with cancer, how to be a good listener and finding the best way to support them.

Macmillan can help

Our online community is a place where people affected by cancer can meet, make friends, ask questions and talk to people going through the same.

For more advice on talking to your family and friends, or to order any of our booklets and audiobooks, call our helpline on 0808 808 00 00 (Mon–Fri, 9am–8pm)

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