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telling other people about the diagnosis


Talking about cancer can be daunting. You may have fears about how people will react, and voicing it can make it feel more real somehow. Getting those words out can be really tough.


The first thing to know is that your hospital social worker and the Redkite support team are here to help you through these conversations.


who do I tell?

It’s up to you to decide who needs to know. You might decide based on who can support you best at the time. For example, you might want to tell close family so they can support you emotionally, or to tell neighbours or close friends so they can help by looking after siblings. Or you might need to let some people, such as work colleagues, know for practical reasons.


what should I say?

Knowing what to say to people can be the hardest part. You may be wondering how much to say, and how to find the right words when you feel confused yourself. Writing things down first can help with this. Think about:

  • What information you want to share
  • Which questions you might get asked
  • What help you want from the people you’re telling

Remember you only need to share as much as you’re comfortable with.


who can help me tell people?

Remember, you don’t have to always be the person to share the news. You can ask a family member or close friend to be the person who tells people or answers questions, so you don’t feel like you have to support others.


Of course, you can also ask your medical team or social worker to explain the details to your family, and again the Redkite support team can talk you through ways to manage this.


telling siblings

This can be a very different conversation. While you might be worried about protecting siblings, most will know something is wrong. If they aren’t told enough, they can often imagine something worse than the truth.


Some common feelings siblings might have include:

  • Being scared or worried for their sibling
  • Feeling guilty that they are healthy
  • Thinking they caused their sibling’s cancer
  • Anger at how their lives have been changed
  • Acting out or attention-seeking behaviour
  • Wanting to help but not knowing how
  • Jealousy, especially if their diagnosed sibling is showered with gifts and concern

You can support siblings by giving them as much easy-to-understand information as possible and letting them know where to go if they need extra support. It might be hard to find time to spend with them, so explain this to them and do whatever you can.


Some other things that can support siblings are:

  • Including them in meetings with the medical team or family discussions
  • Talking to them and asking how they’re feeling or if they have questions
  • Making sure they know who will be looking after them
  • Trying to maintain their normal routine and activities as much as possible
  • Help them to find information sources such as the Redkite Book Club and CanTeen's sibling support services (for 12–24 year olds)
  • Finding a trusted person they can talk with, like a family member, friend or counsellor

telling people at work

If you need time off work to attend appointments or stay at the hospital, you may need to consider telling your employer. What and how much you tell them is up to you, but as a general rule, the more people know, they more they may be able to support you.


Find out more about managing work and finances.


telling the young person's school or a workplace

It’s important to keep the young person’s school informed, particularly if they have siblings there who might need extra support. Read our information on education and work for ideas on how to manage this.

people’s responses and reactions

Unfortunately, not everyone responds to the news of a cancer diagnosis in the best possible way. You might be surprised (or even horrified) by some of the reactions you experience. Despite being well-meaning, lots of people get it very wrong.


At the same time, there’s a good chance there will also be people who will know the right thing to say, even if that’s simply acknowledging, “I don’t know what to say”. And while some family and friends may not react as well as you would like at first, they can still end up being great supporters.


Once again, our support team can talk to you about having these conversations, and any emotions they might bring up.

Last updated September 2015.