Talking to family and friends

Talking about cancer is often very difficult. It can be hard to make sense of what is happening to you after a cancer diagnosis and how you feel. Here is some advice on how to talk to your family members and friends and useful communications tips.

Your family and friends can support you through your cancer journey in different ways:

  • Some family members and friends can offer a listening ear and advice if you need it.
  • Others may research information on cancer to know what you can expect during your treatment and what you’re going through.
  • Some may prefer to help you in a practical way, like travelling to hospital appointments, helping with childcare, cooking, shopping or housework.

It may take a bit of time to know which way suits you and your family or friend best.

Talking about your illness with your family or friends can be difficult at first. Most people with cancer feel awkward and embarrassed when they discuss it. You might be afraid that you will cry. Don’t worry about this. Whilst it feels painful at the time,  crying can release harmful feelings, reduce your stress and make communication easier. You might feel you're burdening friends or loved ones with your worries and concerns. But remember, it’s important to give your family and friends the chance to talk openly with you. Otherwise, they may worry that you are feeling isolated and lonely. Tell them what you need. They will probably be very eager to support you. Just knowing they are ready to listen and to help can be reassuring.

Hints and tips for communicating:

  • Pick two or three things you really want to talk about.
  • Be honest about your feelings. Acknowledge any strong emotion you or your listener might have.
  • Describe your feelings rather than display them. For example, if you feel angry or resentful try to explain rather than act out.
  • Don’t feel guilty about feeling a certain way. You are allowed to have these feelings.
  • Tell the other person how much she or he means to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to say you're worried or unsure about the future.
  • Allow your friend or family member to hug you, or hold your hand. If that's uncomfortable, even sitting quietly together (or listening to music) can help.
  • If you regret anything in your life, express those feelings.

Sometimes it can be hard to talk to the people closest to you.  A trained counsellor who is not involved in your situation can help you to express your feelings, worries and fears and make sense of them. Counselling can also give you emotional support so you can cope better and help you to make decisions. If you find it difficult to speak to loves ones, and don't have access to a counsellor, you can talk to one of our cancer nurses. Call our Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre to speak to a specialist nurse in confidence. To find out where your nearest Daffodil Centre is, email

These booklets have more useful tips on how to talk about your feelings and where to find support.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Date Last Revised: 
Thursday, December 1, 2016