Telling a loved one they have cancer


Debbie Mosbacher


May 23,2016

Sometimes family members are the first to learn of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis. How does a family decide if they should or when they should tell the person who has the cancer? Are some people too emotionally fragile, too young, or too old to know?

Most people can handle the news that they have cancer, but each person needs time to adjust and figure out what the diagnosis means to them.

If you are a family member trying to decide if you should tell a loved one they have cancer, consider this: you may think you are sparing them bad news, but they probably will sense something is wrong, especially if they start having a lot of tests done and/or don’t feel well. The person with cancer may resent it when they find out family members kept the diagnosis a secret. Although you may think you are protecting them, your loved one might see this as dishonest.

When people with cancer are not told about their diagnosis, they are unable to make important decisions about their treatment and their life. There may be things they want to do, personal matters they want to take care of, or legal papers that may need to be updated. Even when a person has a cancer with a good chance for cure, they still need to discuss treatment options and goals, long-term treatment outcomes, and decisions about end-of-life care, including advance directives (living will and durable power of attorney for health care) with their doctors and their families.

Get the health care team’s support and input in sharing this news with your loved one. It’s their responsibility. They have experience with this and can make it easier on you.

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