6 Tips for Telling People You Have Cancer

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Reddit user Imgladimetyou_ was diagnosed with breast cancer at the tender age of 27. As she began telling her friends, family, and boss about the unfortunate disease, she found that the news did not get easier to deliver with time, and no way of saying it seemed to improve the reaction of those she told. So she came to the Reddit online community with a question. “Each time I’ve told close friends [and] family so far,” she says, “I feel like I’ve punched them in the face. Advice?”

She explains that her method of telling people might be a bit too blunt and that everyone’s reactions have been very emotional. “Did you ever find a way to tell people so that their initial reaction wasn’t so strong?” she asks. “Or is it something I should just expect?”

In an effort to help Imgladimetyou_ find a way to break the news a little more gently and avoid the extra emotional struggle associated with strong reactions, Reddit users offered their best tips and stories. We’ve collected a few of them below to help you stay sane while you get the word out to your friends and loved ones that you have cancer.

(NOTE: Some comments have been edited for length or clarity.)


6. Use whatever means necessary.

“Yeah, I felt like I kicked a puppy every time I had to tell someone new that my son was diagnosed [with cancer]. Other than close family, I told most people via text/email so I wouldn’t have to deal with their initial reactions. I couldn’t worry about how other people felt about it.” —Reddit user carhop79

5. If they don’t ask, don’t tell.

“Recently, when I feel the need to tell someone, I ask if they have some time to chat (meet for a coffee, etc). I then tell them that I had some tests for a medical concern, and the results were not as I expected. I say that I am getting ready to be treated for the concern, and I do not know what will be happening in the next several months. I let them prod further to see if they want to know what is up. If they don’t ask, I don’t tell. If they ask for details, then I give them the skinny that I have cancer. Some people just do not want to know what you have.” —Reddit user valiamo

4. Be a little selfish if necessary.

“Consider your own capacity to deal with other people’s emotions. I like to quote my friend, who said to his wife after his mother died: ‘I don’t have time for your feelings right now.’ Kinda mean, but very funny.” —Reddit user addelena

3. Attach your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

“When I was diagnosed with breast and uterine cancer within weeks of each other last year at age 32, I totally did more consoling of other people than they did of me. It was exhausting at first. But remember to attach your own oxygen mask before assisting others. You could possibly appoint someone to privately share the news with people you approve of. That removes that direct initial shock.” —Reddit user pug_mom

2. Stay blunt, my friend.

“Stay blunt. Believe it or not, it’s the most tactful way to break the news. It only makes it harder or builds more emotion if you offer a pretense or setup before you break the news. By being blunt, you’re giving friends and family the ability to react quickly. This allows them to process the news faster and then HOPEFULLY compose themselves so they can be supportive of you.” —Reddit user Mafsto

1. Focus on the future.

“Do you know what your treatment will entail or the expected outcome? Sometimes talking about what will happen next holds the chaos at bay.” —Reddit user SorrySisterWendy


There’s no one right or wrong way to tell your loved ones and friends you have cancer, and there’s no right timing or right number of people you should tell, either. Feel free to apply different methods to different people as you feel comfortable, and remember to deal with your own needs before worrying about others. Being alive and healthy is far more important than how or when you told people you had cancer.

If you have another tip for telling people you have cancer, please share in the comments to help out other readers who may be in a similar situation.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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