Cancer Communication: How To Tell People You Have Cancer

Life as you know it changes when your doctor says three words, “You have cancer.” According to Ron Williams, Coping with Cancer class facilitator at Clearview Cancer Institute, effective communication to friends, family and co-workers about a cancer diagnosis can be difficult and emotionally draining.

Williams, a licensed counselor, suggests spending time to truly comprehend the diagnosis yourself. He says to discuss the diagnosis with someone you trust in order to grasp the gravity of the situation. Take notes and bring a trusted friend or family member to listen to the information provided by your care team. Williams says note taking in one notebook is beneficial to keep thoughts and comments organized and in one place.

Who Do I Tell and How? 

Williams suggests: 

First, ask: What does this cancer diagnosis mean to me? Carefully consider what you will need to do as you begin your cancer regiment.

Secondly, ask yourself: Who do I need to tell first? Williams says to consider having a face-to-face conversation with those closest to you. Plan when, where and how you are going to have this conversation. Consider the following: will it be best to tell people face-to-face, on the phone, etc. Every situation in communicating your news to others will be different, just as your cancer diagnosis is unique from others. 

Next, consider  how to get the word out to others like friends, neighbors and close confidants. Be aware that you may be at times dissatisfied with and disappointed how the news of a cancer diagnosis spreads without your permission or dissemination.

Expect the Unexpected

Also, reactions about the news can vary widely. “Initially, you want to communicate that you have been diagnosed with cancer and their thoughts and prayers would be appreciated. You might also mention that you are just starting this cancer journey and you don’t know everything you need to know to answer any questions at this time,” said Williams. “You might add that you need everyone to be patient as you decide how to best relay information to those concerned. Thank them again for their friendship and concern as you conclude your initial news announcement.”

Consider several effective ways to inform others about the diagnosis:

  1. Authorize a gatekeeper, a person who has your blessings to communicate via email, phone calls, or other media forms to those interested in your progress. Be sure you have total access to this gatekeeper and you trust them to properly disseminate the news to share with others.
  2. Utilize social media and websites like,, This allows one centralized platform for updates.
  3. Create a private Facebook group where information is sent out only to those who have been approved to be part of the group.
  4. Other social media forms like FaceTime, Skype or Zoom can be useful when communicating with people far away.

Williams says something to remember is that you are not obligated to tell everything about your condition or even tell everyone the same amount of information. “You can be as selective as you deem necessary.  Take control of your message, as you see fit.”

Again, telling people about a cancer diagnosis can be challenging. Williams says above all, take care of yourself. This is your diagnosis and your journey. Do what works best for you, and consider the recommendations above.