- Cancer Information
- When you are first diagnosed
- Emotions and cancer
- The others in your life
- Other people’s reactions
Other people’s reactions
The reactions from your family and friends will depend on many factors, including their previous experience of cancer and their own coping styles. Sometimes people respond in ways that may make you feel hurt, angry or frustrated.
Learn more about:
The different reactions from your family and friends may include:
Becoming very distressed – People often have a strong emotional reaction to the word “cancer”, but they may not be aware that treatments and outcomes are improving all the time.
Saying the wrong thing – People often don’t know what to say. They may appear too positive or make light of your situation, or may even say something inappropriate or ill-informed. Try not to take their initial reactions as a sign that they don’t care. They may need as much information, support and advice as you do. They might be fearful of losing you, frustrated they can’t do anything about the disease, or worried about how the illness will change their lives.
Giving unhelpful advice – In their keenness to help, people might offer confusing advice or want you to try new “miracle cures” that aren’t evidence-based. Let them know that you are making treatment decisions based on discussions with your medical team. Explain that every cancer is different and you need to follow the advice of experts.
Withdrawing from you – Some friends may seem to avoid you – they might feel like they can’t cope with what you’re going through. If you think not knowing what to say is keeping a friend from visiting, call them to ease the way. You may find that talking openly about the illness and treatment helps everyone.
Give your family and friends time to adjust to the diagnosis. After the initial shock, most people will be supportive.
After a cancer diagnosis, communication becomes even more important in your relationships. If you feel hurt by the reaction of someone close to you, a conversation may help clear the air:
- Find time to talk. Don’t wait for the “right” time – it may never come.
- Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling, even if it is upsetting.
- Focus on understanding each other – at least initially, this is more important than trying to solve the problem.
- Really listen to what the other person is trying to say and try to understand where they are coming from.
|In some cultures, cancer may be seen as contagious, sent to test you, caused by bad luck or always fatal. People may not want to talk about it openly and may not want to use the word “cancer”. If it is hard to talk about cancer within your community, you could call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for another source of confidential support.|
Dr Anna Hughes, Liaison Psychiatrist and Psycho-oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anita Bamert, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sally Carveth, Assistant Coordinator, Cancer Support Leader Program, Cancer Council NSW; Matt Featherstone, Consumer; Dr Charlotte Tottman, Clinical Psychologist, Allied Consultant Psychologists and Flinders University, SA; Shirley Witko, Senior Social Worker, Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.