Breast cancer: How do I tell my family and friends?

Telling your loved ones that you have cancer can be hard. Here are some tips to help start the conversation.

The diagnosis of breast cancer is a shock that needs to be absorbed. Telling partners, friends and especially children about the disease is an additional challenge for many women. We have put together some tips that can help you talk with your loved ones about the condition and its consequences.


The relationships we have with other people vary from person to person, and there is no universal ‘right way’ to tell people you are close to that you have breast cancer. The following tips might help you decide on the best way for you.


Ideas for letting people know your diagnosis of breast cancer



Things to consider when talking to your partner


For many women, their partner is an important emotional support, although providing this support can sometimes be stressful for your partner. That’s why it can help both of you if you involve them in your medical decisions from the beginning, process your diagnosis together and share your thoughts and feelings. During your treatment you might also want to talk to them about issues such as your how your body feels or what you need in relation to intimacy and sexuality. This is not always easy, but it can help to find solutions together and to prepare for the changes ahead.


Things to consider when talking to your parents


Parents often find it especially hard when they learn that their child is ill, no matter what their age. You know your parents better than anyone: it can help to tell both of them together about your diagnosis so that they can support each other, or if you are closer to one parent you might want to share it with them first. It can also help to have your siblings or other family members with you when you break the news.


Things to consider when talking to friends


First, think about who you want to share your diagnosis and experiences with. Who do you want to tell personally and who can be told by someone else? It can be helpful to treat the illness as openly and honestly as possible with friends. But it can also be good to allow yourself areas of protection, parts of your life where the disease does not matter, for example, with neighbours or casual acquaintances.


How to keep communicating while you are having treatment for breast cancer


Don’t expect too much from people. Nobody knows what you are thinking, your worries and what you need unless you tell them – so let them know as clearly as you can and don’t be afraid to set boundaries with people. If the well-meaning advice of your best friend or family member is too much for you, tell them. Equally, tell them when you want to share your worries.
Whether it’s face-to-face conversation, telephone or email, keep the communication channels with your support system open. That way they can be there for you when required. Equally, life goes on. If you are feeling overwhelmed, tell them when you need a break from talking about it.


Things to consider when talking to your children


What and how much you tell your children about your breast cancer also depends on how old they are. The preparation for a conversation with a three-year-old will naturally be different from that for a 16-year-old who is in the middle of puberty. Here are a few approaches:


Ideas for telling your children about your breast cancer diagnosis



Ideas on how to keep communicating with your children while you are having treatment for breast cancer




The following websites have more information on talking to your children about cancer:

Breast Cancer Care has a section on how to tell your children you have breast cancer, as well as one on telling family and friends.

The Macmillan Cancer Support page “Explaining cancer to children and teenagers” also has a section on explaining cancer to children with learning difficulties.