Telling people about your diagnosis
Think about who you want or need to tell about your bowel cancer. If possible, start with telling those who are likely to react in a supportive way – people you think might help you.
Sometimes people are upset, shocked and may struggle to think of what to say. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with any silence you could let the person know that you don’t expect them to know what to say and return to the conversation later. Or you could ask them to help you with a particular task.
Friends and family can be a great support, even if you’ve had a difficult relationship before your diagnosis. Don’t be afraid to take up their offers or to ask for help. If you’re used to managing by yourself, this can take a bit of getting used to. But by accepting help, you can save your energy for the things that are most important to you.
If you have a lot of people to tell, friends or family may help you. Or you might want to send a group email or text. Some people write blogs or set up WhatsApp groups so they can update everyone on their progress at the same time.
There may be some people you don’t want to talk to about your cancer. You might want to practise a few things to say, so you can use them if you need to. One example might be, “I’m not bad thanks, how are you getting on?” to turn the attention away from you and on to the other person.
Talking to children
Whether you have children of your own or young children in your family, talking to them about cancer can be difficult and upsetting for you both. Some people are unsure what the ‘right’ things to say or do are and may try to protect the child from upset by not telling them what’s happening. But even very young children will sense when something is wrong in the family and they can get more worried when they’re not told what is going on. They may even fear that something worse is happening. Talking to children stops them getting wrong information from other places like the television or internet.
You don’t need to tell the child everything at once. Tell them in a language that they will understand and be prepared to answer their questions. You can check that they’ve understood by asking them to tell you what’s happening, in their own words. If you don’t have an answer, it’s okay to say you don’t know.
Ask how they’re feeling and try to find out what they’re worried about. Generally, children need to be reassured that they will still be loved and cared for. Young children may want to know who will make dinner or take them to school if the person who normally does this is unwell.
You may want to tell your child’s school or any clubs they go to. This will help the staff to support your child and understand any changes in their mood or behaviour.
“Although my son had heard of cancer, he didn’t really understand what it was. I explained that mummy’s bum wasn’t quite right and it was cancer. I explained that there may be some days I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed, or that his dad or aunty may be taking him to school and that his routine will change.” Nicola
Telling a parent
Your parent may already know that you’ve been having tests for a medical problem. They may have no idea that you’ve been worried about your health or they may have noticed that something was wrong. Whatever the situation, telling a parent or older family member that you have cancer can be difficult. You may worry about upsetting them or you may need to think about their health. For example, if they have dementia, they may find it difficult to understand.
You may decide that you don’t want to tell your parent. Be aware that someone else may tell them or your parent may notice that something is different. You know your own family best. You may want to talk to another member of the family or friend about what to do.
You can’t make difficult or bad news good, but these things may make it a bit easier for you and your parent:
- Think about whether you want to tell your parent straight away or wait until there’s a treatment plan to talk about. This can give you something positive to focus on
- Is there a good time of day to tell your parent? If you tell them earlier in the day they may have more time to take the news on board or contact someone else for support. If you tell them nearer the end of the day, both of you may find it difficult to sleep
- Think about taking a booklet that explains your cancer. Our publications can be found here
- Sometimes parents can feel helpless because they haven’t been able to protect their child from cancer. You can let them know how they can help. For example, by asking them to look after grandchildren, help with housework or just be there for a cup of tea and a chat
- If your parent is in a care home or hospital you may want to tell the staff so that they can support your parent
- If your parent has personality or behavioural changes caused by an illness, such as dementia, they may react by saying something that seems insensitive or irrelevant. These reactions can be difficult to cope with but they can be easier to deal with if you prepare yourself for them. You might want to ask someone else to repeat the information to your parent later on
- Think about what may help you after you’ve told your parent. Perhaps having quiet time on your own, or having someone supportive to turn to
You and your partner
Your relationship with your partner may change when you’re diagnosed with bowel cancer. You may feel a closer bond between you as you deal with your diagnosis together. Or one or both of you might be finding it difficult to cope. Your usual roles at home may have changed, for example if you stop working or if you’re not able to do things around the house that you used to. You might find it difficult to get used to these changes
Try to keep talking and listening to each other. Suggest ways your partner can help you, for example, by answering phone calls from friends and family. You may want to ask your partner to go to your hospital appointments with you. This gives you both the chance to be involved in discussions about test results and treatments. Your healthcare professional may also find it helpful to talk to you both together and to get to know your partner.
Your partner might need support themselves. Our online community at bowelcanceruk.org.uk/community is a good way for partners to share experiences with others.