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Good communication is about so much more than the words we say.

How we express ourselves is just as important, especially when we’re talking about something as difficult as cancer. We’ve put together some tips to help you have more fulfilling conversations with your family, friends, and healthcare teams.

Talking About Cancer88

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The most important thing to know about living with cancer is that you are not alone. It’s not going to be easy. You might not be ready to talk right away. When you are, you might not know what to say—and others may not, either.

You get to decide what you say and how you say it. But remember that sharing your thoughts and feelings can help you feel closer to your loved ones and get the support you need. When you’re ready to talk, we have some ideas that may help.

More Conversation Tips

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Be open and honest

You don’t have to put on a brave face. Being honest about how you feel will get you the help you need.

Let yourself feel

It’s normal to feel angry or upset when facing cancer. Talking about these feelings may help you work through them.

Look for new forms of support

Family and friends are helpful, and so are support groups. Talking with other people living with cancer may make it easier to share your feelings and fears openly and honestly.

Remember that there’s no rush to talk

It may take a while before you feel comfortable sharing. Be patient with yourself and work with your family and friends. Using some of the tips here could make talking and sharing with others easier.

Tips to Communicate with Your Caregiver and Family

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Your loved ones are on this journey with you, but they may not know exactly what kind of support you need. Having open, honest conversations about your needs is a great way to improve your communication and relationships with your caregiver and family.

Talking about cancer won’t always be easy. But remember that sharing your thoughts, feelings and questions can help you feel closer to your loved ones and get the support you need.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Talking to Adults

  • Let your loved one know how they can support you
    For example, if you would like to continue working, let your partner know how they can support you in making that a reality, such as more help with the household chores.
  • Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need
    There may be times when you don’t know what help you need at that point. Tell your loved ones exactly that, and let them know you will come back to them if you need any help.
  • Remember that your loved ones will be affected too
    Let them talk to you about how they feel as well.
  • Dealing with strong emotions
    Try to talk about your emotion vs acting it. For example, say “I feel angry” instead of shouting. Also avoid accusatory statements and criticism of character.
  • If you do not want to talk
    If you do not feel ready to talk, you could practice what to say when your loved ones ask how you are. For example, you could say: “Thank you for asking. I am not ready to speak about this at the moment, but I will let you know when I feel ready.”

Talking to Children and Teenagers

  • Use age-appropriate words
    For example, if speaking to younger children, say “medicine” instead of “chemotherapy”. For older children, you could explain cancer using a simple analogy of a battle between “good cells” and “bad cells”.
  • Prepare younger children before your treatment
    As the changes in your physical appearance during treatment may frighten younger children.
  • Regularly reassure your children of your love for them
    Tell them that your discomfort or sadness is caused by your illness, and not because of them.
  • Answer their questions honestly and encourage them to share their feelings

Tips to Effectively Communicate with Your Healthcare Team

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It’s important to make the most of your time with your healthcare team. Talking openly about your symptoms, both physical and emotional, can help them identify the support and care you need. Here are some suggested basic questions to start the conversation with your doctor.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor89, 90, 91

About the diagnosis

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • At what stage is my cancer? What does this mean for me?
  • Has the cancer spread anywhere else? Where has it spread to?
  • What does my diagnosis mean for my treatment and outcomes?
  • Is this type of cancer caused by genetic factors? Are other members of my family at risk?

Deciding on a treatment plan

  • What are the side effects of the treatment?
  • How often will I need to come in for the treatment? How long will each session last? For how long will I need to continue this treatment?
  • What are my chances for survival?
  • Will I need to do any tests before we decide on treatment?
  • What are the chances that my cancer will come back with this treatment plan?
  • What would we do if the treatment doesn’t work and the cancer comes back?
  • Will I still be able to work while having the treatment?
  • Will the treatment hurt or leave any physical scars?
  • How much do I need to pay for treatment?
  • Could this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children? If so, should I talk with a fertility specialist before cancer treatment begins?

Cancer treatment

  • What are the treatment options?
  • Which treatment do you recommend and why?
  • What’s the goal of my treatment?
  • How should I prepare for treatment?

During treatment

  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • Is there anything I can do to help manage side effects?
  • Is there anything that I cannot do during treatment? (e.g. foods and medicines to avoid, can I exercise?)
  • Once my treatment ends, how often do I need to come back for follow up consultations with you?
  • How can I keep myself as healthy as possible during treatment?

Clinical trials

  • What are clinical trials?
  • Are clinical trials an option for me?

Other support

  • Is financial support available to pay for treatment? How do I apply for / use it?
  • Are there any patient support groups I can join?
  • If I start losing my hair, what can I do about it?

Click here to learn more about Tips and Guidance relating to other aspects of cancer care.