How to Tell the People in Your Life That You Have Breast Cancer


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Keep it simple, and be prepared for questions.
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Many patients would rather eat their socks than have to tell someone else that they have breast cancer. But saying the words not only helps you adjust to the idea and affirms that you're dealing with it; it also provides those around you with vital information.

Take your time
"It's important to share this information with the people closest to you, but you don't have to do it all at once—and you don't have to tell everyone," says Robin Hershkowitz, program director for women's cancers at CancerCare, a national nonprofit support services group based in New York City.

How you do it will vary, and there's no need to tell everyone in person; that takes too much time and energy. "Take time to prioritize who are the most important people to tell first," says Hershkowitz. "You can tell them to share the news with others by phone or e-mail, or you can do it yourself."

Telling your children
The sooner you inform your kids that you have breast cancer, the better, say experts. Just keep the explanations simple and age-appropriate. "Kids are intuitive, and they'll notice a change in the household," says Hershkowitz. "So tell them directly: 'Mom has cancer.' Use the word. Let them hear it from you, and explain it. It'll be much less scary than what they'll make up in their heads about what's going on." If they have questions, answer them. If not, move on.

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Before her lumpectomy, Simi Valley, Calif., teacher Kim Heier, 42, sat down with her kids—ages 12, 10, and 7—for that particular conversation. "I said, 'There's a bump in my breast that's not supposed to be there and the doctor wants to take it out.' Very matter-of-fact—here's the info—boom. They had their own list of priorities, things they needed to know, important things like, 'Are they going to sew you back together, or staple you?' "

Telling your parents
The sooner you tell your parents you have breast cancer, the sooner they can get used to the situation. (Unless, of course, you're not ever planning to tell them.)

Speaking up may not be easy, though. No one wants to cause their parents pain and anguish, especially if they are elderly. "You go through barbaric stuff during treatment, moving your breasts up, down, and sideways—but the worst part was telling my parents," says Pam Tazioli, 54, of Seattle.

If you don't want to break the news on your own, enlist support from siblings or a close family friend: "My cousin, sister, and I drove over the day I was diagnosed," says Tazioli. "I didn't want to tell them, but it's too much of a secret. So I did it and got over it. And they were two of my strongest supporters and advocates."
Lead writer: Lorie Parch
Last Updated: May 18, 2008

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