How to talk to your family and friends about your breast cancer
Sharing news of a breast cancer diagnosis with family and friends is never easy. But the people who know you and love you will want to be there for you. By telling them about your diagnosis, you are allowing them to help you and give you support.
Once you’ve started to let loved ones know about your diagnosis, different people may take on different kinds of support roles. For instance, a spouse or romantic partner may act as a primary caregiver. In other cases, a family member or close friend may fill that role, or caregiving can be split between two or more close people in your life.
Having a strong support network can be beneficial to your health. A study in the journal Cancer showed that women diagnosed with breast cancer live longer if they have a large network of family, friends, and community members who can provide emotional, physical, or financial help during times of need.
Telling family about your diagnosis
Just as you have your unique way of dealing with the news, so will your family. Sometimes family members do not respond the way you might expect. They may not always know what to say. Remember that these responses have to do with their own fears and worries, and not with how they feel about you. It’s also possible for family members you didn’t expect to be as supportive to surprise you — in a good way!
Sharing the news with your family is entirely your decision, and you can share it when and how you choose. You do not have to share the news immediately or with your entire extended family.
Sometimes, there are relatives who ask more questions than you want to answer. Remember, you are in control of how much information you share, and you have the right to set personal boundaries that are comfortable for you.
You can learn more in the blog “Talking to parents about your breast cancer diagnosis,” where
- LBBC Young Advocate Dani Bennov talks about sharing her diagnosis news with her family and learning to set healthy boundaries
- blog author Dana Danofree shares helpful do’s and don’ts for family members, such as “DO ask about their emotional and mental health” and “DON’T give unsolicited advice”
Telling children about your diagnosis
If you have a young person close to you — a child, grandchild, or niece or nephew — it can be especially important to share the news of your diagnosis.
It may be tempting to shield children from the news, but children sometimes feel anxious when they sense adults are hiding something. They may have questions if they notice changes in the way you look or behave.
Talk with children in a way that makes sense for their age and emotional development. Be clear and reassuring:
- With small children, you do not need to be very specific. You can say, “Mommy is sick, but I am taking medicine to make me better. The medicine may make me tired or make me lose my hair, but I am still the same mommy.” Using real words like “cancer” and “chemotherapy” helps children understand that they won’t lose their hair or have other side effects the next time they get sick. Consider using one of the many picture books available to help the young people in your life understand cancer.
- With older children, be ready to answer questions, and let them know how family routines may change. You can help them know what to expect by saying, “There may be times when I won’t have energy. Your aunt will pick you up from school if I can’t.”
- When you’re talking with teens, it’s fine to talk on an adult level. Let them know that it’s important to you that they still maintain their lives and friendships outside of your family.
Our Breast Cancer Helpline volunteers are also available to help you think about how to communicate diagnosis news to children in your life.
Below you can find articles, inspirational stories, and supportive resources about recognizing and managing your feelings after a diagnosis, talking with your family, and more.
- Coping with a new diagnosis
- Emotional stages of a cancer diagnosis
- Managing emotional side effects
- Medicines for emotional health
Related news & opinion
- Facing breast cancer when you have a mood or anxiety disorder
- My Story: ‘As long as my family is with me, I will always have support’
- Help for the Helpers: Why caregivers need self-care
- What I Wish I Knew: Lean in
- Talking to parents about your diagnosis
- Offering support for the newly diagnosed: Tips for people who’ve been there
Free downloadable resources
- Coping with a new diagnosis (PDF)
- Guide for the Newly Diagnosed (PDF)
- A step-by-step breathing exercise for relaxation (PDF)