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Talking to Friends and Loved Ones about Ovarian Cancer

For some people, talking about cancer comes easily. For many, many others, it is complicated. If you have been putting off telling someone about your diagnosis or have had trouble figuring out the right way to talk about it, that is normal. It can be one of the most difficult conversations people may have.

While there are no right or wrong ways to have these conversations, we have put together a few tips to help you create your own plan.

Take control

Although it will not always be possible, you should feel free to control if, when, and how to talk about your cancer diagnosis.

If you have been meaning to reach out to someone, such as a member of your extended family or a friend at work, you should feel comfortable doing it on your terms. This can mean choosing a time and place to talk that puts you at ease. It can also mean delivering the news by phone, email, or letter, or asking someone else to talk on your behalf.

Change the subject

Once you find yourself more comfortable with talking about cancer, you might also find that you do not always want to talk about it. It is OK to steer conversations in a different direction or to tell people that you would rather not talk about cancer right now. Just as you have the choice of when to bring up your cancer, you have the choice to change the subject.

Accept imperfection

We all react differently to bad news, and a loved one’s cancer diagnosis is some of the worst news that you can get. When you tell people you have cancer, they might react with fear, anger, or sadness. They might say the wrong thing. Or they might seem to not react at all – denial is a pretty common response. Be patient with these responses, and remember that people want to support you. They just might not know how.

Ask for help

When you tell someone you have cancer, it is often common for that person to ask what they can do to help you. Take them up on it! Some simple things that friends and loves ones can do include:1

  • Give you a ride to doctors’ appointments or keep you company while you are there
  • Pitch in with chores, such as house cleaning, yard care, babysitting, or grocery shopping
  • Provide emotional support with a shoulder to cry on or as a simple lifeline whenever you need to vent

If you cannot think of anything you need at the moment, let the person know you appreciate their offer. And do not forget to reach out if and when you can use their help.

Widen your support system

It is good to let your loved ones know if they can talk to other people about your diagnosis. This sets important boundaries for you, but it also helps to establish a support system for them. For example, sharing information with their friends gives your loved one an outlet to talk about cancer and get the social support they need. It can also help you make connections to people who have been in your shoes before as a person with cancer or a loved one of someone with cancer.

Talk to children

This is often the hardest conversation to face. Even before you talk to children about cancer, they may sense that something is wrong. How you speak to them about your diagnosis depends on the child’s age. The American Cancer Society recommends being specific about the type of cancer you have, how it will be treated, and how your life – and the child’s – may change.2

After you have expressed yourself, give the child time to do the same. This will help you know what they are thinking and feeling. This will also give you an opportunity to correct misconceptions and soothe fears.2

Be OK with just being

Talking about a cancer diagnosis is hard, both for the person diagnosed and the person receiving the news. Sometimes it is best to not talk at all. Sitting quietly or sharing a hug may be exactly what you both need in that moment.

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