Talking to your friends about cancer

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It's up to you who you talk to about your cancer and what details you choose to share. Find out tips to help you talk to your friends about cancer and what you can say if they have questions.

Key points

  • There is no right way to tell anyone you have cancer, and you don't need to tell anyone you don't want to or share any details you are not comfortable sharing.
  • Staying connected with friends throughout your treatment journey can help you feel supported and less alone.

Some people tell everyone they know that they have cancer. Other people tell only their closest friends. Of course it is up to you who you talk to about your cancer and what you choose to share.

How should I talk to my friends about my cancer?

You might worry how your friends are going to react or that you’ll get emotional when you talk about cancer. These worries are normal. Cancer is not an easy thing to talk about with your friends. You might find it easier to write your friends a letter or email, tell them on the phone, or tell one close friend who can help you tell other friends. There is no “best” way to tell people you have cancer. You can only do what feels best for you. Your health-care team can help you find ways to talk to friends about your cancer and your treatment.

For more information on talking to your friends about cancer, check out these tips from CanTeen, an Australian organization for teens living with cancer.

How will my friends respond?

When you talk to your friends about your cancer, they may not react the way you hoped or thought they would. Their reaction may make you feel angry or disappointed, or make you feel like they don’t understand what you are going through. Often peoples’ first reaction to new or unexpected information is not how they would normally react to other news. They may need time to process this information, just as you first did.

On the other hand, their reaction might be surprisingly good! You might be surprised by how much they understand and how much better you feel knowing you still have their friendship. It may seem unfair on top of everything else you’re dealing with right now, but you will likely need to help your friends understand your cancer and how cancer and treatment are affecting you. Remember that before you had cancer, you didn’t understand it either.

What can I say to my friends?

Even though it might take some extra effort at first, it will be worth it to stay close to your friends through the challenges cancer brings. Try some of these tips to help your friends understand what you’re going through and to help them be the friends you need them to be.

  • Tell your friends a few facts about your cancer and your treatment to help them understand what you are going through.
  • Let your friends know that you’re still the same person you always were and would like to be treated that way.
  • Give your friends ideas of what they can do to support you. Remember, they are probably confused and may not know how to help you.
  • When you feel ready to answer friends’ questions, let them know. You can say something like, “I can tell you about my cancer if you want…” And when you don’t feel like talking about cancer, let them know that too.
  • Stay in contact with your friends though texts, phone calls, emails, tweets, or any way you feel comfortable. You may need to be the one to contact your friends, since they might be afraid to bother you, especially if you’re in the hospital.
  • If you find it difficult to explain cancer and treatment to your friends, give them a link to a website that will help them understand what cancer is and how to support you through it.

Friendships are important

Your friendships may change throughout your treatment journey. Some friends will be amazing and supportive, and others may become more distant. You might also make new friends with other teens who are going through similar experiences. At this difficult time in your life, try to stay connected to those people who offer you support and help you feel good. Cancer is too much for one person to deal with alone. Remember that the more you can be open with your friends, the more chances they have to understand what you are going through, and to be supportive and accepting.

Check out any teen support groups or resources that your hospital provides. These can help you make friends with people who understand what you’re going through.

Here are some links that you could share with your friends to help them understand:

Last updated: September 3rd 2019