Telling People you have Cancer or another Life Threatening Disease

Telling friends and family that you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness is never an easy task. You must deal with your own emotions and on top of this cope with the reactions and grief of others. Many people tell everyone they know as soon as they get their diagnosis, others take time to personally come to terms with the situation before sharing the news with others.


  • Decide to share the news when you are ready. How you are coping and your emotional and physical health is paramount so bear this in mind when telling people and dealing with their reactions.
  • Telling other people allows you to express your emotions and you should feel free to do this. Don’t hide how you feel to protect others.
  • Be as honest and open as you can with the people who are closest to you and are likely to be caring for you. They are your support system and the more information they have the better they can help you.
  • Telling children can wait until you have a complete picture of your diagnosis and can talk to them in a calm, controlled way. Although you shouldn’t hide your emotions from your children approaching the situation in a hysterical fashion will disturb them. Often your doctor can help you explain to children what to expect.
  • Remember it may not be appropriate to tell the gory details to every person you meet. What may be appropriate to tell your best friend is unlikely to be suitable for a 6 year old child.
  • People react differently. Some will appear not to react at first and will need time to absorb the information, others will instantly fall apart.
  • Some people will want lots of details, others will hide from the realities. People who can cope and have knowledge of your condition can be an invaluable support system as time goes on.
  • Dying is such a personal experience, many people are afraid to intrude and don’t come forward even though they are willing to help. Don’t expect people to second guess when you want support. Tell them and they will almost certainly be there for you.
  • As hard as it may be, be prepared for inappropriate responses such as laughter or stupid comments, adverse reactions or a complete inability to cope. Some people react to highly emotional situations in unusual ways. Some people recover themselves and will be there for you, others will, inevitably, be unable to cope and will drift away.


It is important to keep talking to the people close to you. However, you may also need them to respect your privacy when you want to be alone with your thoughts. How you handle your illness is a very personal decision that only you can make, although how you deal with telling people can have a long lasting effect on your loved ones. If you need someone to talk to other than your friends and family then you can talk to other people on our forum.