Breast cancer: How do I tell my family and friends?

Telling family about breast cancer can be hard. Here are some tips to help start the conversation

A diagnosis of breast cancer can be a traumatic shock that takes time to deal with. Telling family, friends and especially children about breast cancer presents an added challenge for many women. We have put together the following tips on how to tell family and others about your breast cancer and its consequences.


Our relationships with family, friends and partners vary from person to person. There is no one “right way” to tell people that you have breast cancer. But keep in mind that sometimes the one thing you can control is deciding who to tell and how to tell them. The following suggestions may help you tell family and friends “I have breast cancer” in a way that’s right for you.


How to approach telling family and friends you have breast cancer


When talking with your partner

Many women depend on their partner for emotional support. Yet they often worry that talking about breast cancer will be a burden for their partner. If that’s the case for you, it could help you both if you involved them in your medical decisions from the beginning.  You could then process your diagnosis, and share your thoughts and feelings together. During treatment, you might also want to talk about issues such as your how your body feels or what you need in terms of intimacy and sex. This isn’t always easy, but it can help you find solutions together and prepare for changes going forward, such as having a mastectomy.


When talking to your parents

Parents find it particularly hard when they learn that their child is ill, no matter what their age. There are no set rules for how to tell parents. You may want tell both parents at the same time about the disease so they can support each other. If you are closer to one parent, you may feel more comfortable sharing your diagnosis with them first. For many families, it helps to have siblings or other family members together when breaking the news.


When talking to friends

First, think about whom you want to share your diagnosis and experiences with. Who do you want to tell personally? Who can be informed by someone else? It can be helpful to talk about your illness as openly and honestly as possible with friends. But it is okay to set limits. It is perfectly understandable if you want to keep your breast cancer private, especially among colleagues at work where relationships are less personal.


Communicating while undergoing treatment for breast cancer


When talking to your children

What and how much you tell your children about your breast cancer depends on how old they are. Preparing for a conversation with a three-year-old boy will naturally be different than talking to a 16-year-old in the middle of puberty. Here are a few approaches:



Telling your children about your breast cancer diagnosis


Communicating with your children while undergoing treatment




You can find more information about talking to your children about cancer on the following websites:

Kids Connected, a website dedicated to friendship, understanding, education and support for kids and teens who have a parent with cancer


The American Cancer Society page “Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer”