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Talking About Your Diagnosis

Talking about a cancer diagnosis can be challenging and emotionally draining. You might be worried about how people will react.  Perhaps you’re concerned about privacy – or maybe you’re feeling too overwhelmed to talk at all.
People handle the knowledge that they have a serious health problem in different ways.  There is no “right” way.  You are entitled to take the time you need to work through your feelings.  You may find that you don’t want to talk to anyone about your diagnosis.  That is fine too.
We have compiled some suggestions and ideas that you may find helpful.  Feel free to pick and choose whatever makes sense to you.
Talking to your family and friends 
  • If you are part of a couple, your partner may be the first person you think about talking to. Your partner will hopefully be your strongest support during this time, but they too may find the situation difficult.
  • If you are single, you may have one or more close friends and/or family members who you feel comfortable talking to.
  • Sometimes, however, you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you know.  You may prefer the anonymity of a health professional or a peer survivor – someone who knows what it’s like to be in your shoes.  Know that you can turn to Prostate Cancer Canada for help and support at any time for yourself and/or your loved ones.  (Please see below for contact information of our support groups and peer-to-peer and caregiver support program). 
  • When you are ready and if you choose, you may want to think about who else you want to talk to about your diagnosis.   Make a list of people and set aside private time with each person. Before you begin talking, turn off the TV, your cell phone and any other distractions. Try to avoid any interruptions.
  • You can start the conversation with a phrase such as “I’d like to share some news I recently got” or “There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
  • How you decide to approach talking about your diagnosis is up to you, but try not to get isolated.
  • You can refer people to the Prostate Cancer Canada website or other resources if you don’t wish to repeat the same information about cancer or treatment several times. You can also write down specific questions and ask your health care team later.
  • Be prepared for a wide range of reactions. Some people will be supportive and helpful.  Others may avoid expressing their feelings or asking questions, or they might become overly cheerful around you. Still others, afraid or not knowing what to do, may avoid you.  While this is hurtful, it may be how they cope. Reach out to people you’d like to have contact with, but you may have to accept that they might not know how to be supportive.
  • Acknowledge others’ feelings and be open to discussion, now and later. But keep in mind that once you’ve told people you have cancer, you can still choose not to talk about it if you’re not feeling up to it. Just let them know you’d rather discuss it another time.
  • Your loved ones may benefit from joining a support group for family members.  Talk to them about this and ask your health care providers or your hospital for information on local support groups (please see below for contact information for the Prostate Cancer Canada Support Network and the Peer-to-Peer and Caregiver Support Program).
If you have children…
  • Although you may dread telling your children, it is usually best to be honest. Children are perceptive; they will sense that something is going on.  It is important that they hear about it from you.
  • When talking to young children, try to use words that they’ll understand (for example, “medication” instead of “chemotherapy”).  Ask often if they understand, and repeat information if needed.  Ask your children what they know about cancer and where they learned about it.
  • Encourage children to ask questions and share their feelings. They might be afraid, for example, that cancer is contagious, or that they did something to cause your illness. Reassure them that this is not the case.
  • Having another trusted adult present (such as your partner or a relative) lets kids know that they have support from others as well.
  • If you have older and younger children, or if your kids’ personalities are quite different, talk to them separately.
  • Help kids prepare by explaining how the cancer may change their lives and daily routines.
  • Try to be optimistic. If your children ask about death, focus on the present and the treatments that you will start soon.  Let them know that you will give them updates as your treatment progresses.
  • Let your children’s teachers, coaches and other adults in their lives know what is happening. They can provide support and alert you if your kids are having difficulties.
Talking to your employer and co-workers
  • Although you may prefer to keep a cancer diagnosis private at work, it could be difficult if you’re frequently going to medical appointments, or you’re absent for a long period for cancer treatment and recovery. Your appearance may also change, prompting people to ask about your health.
  • Talk to your manager or human resources department.  You do not need to share all of the details, but if your illness and treatment affect your work, they will need to make accommodations or re-assign some or all of your usual tasks.
  • If your co-workers will be affected by your absence, you may want to hold off on talking to them until you know how long you’ll be away. Your manager can explain to the team how your workload will be handled until you return.
  • Be prepared for a wide range of reactions. Some people may resent the added work they must do in your absence.  Some will be uneasy or afraid.  Others may be very supportive and go out of their way to accommodate you.
  • If you have questions about your medical benefits, talk to the human resources staff.  Ask if there are other resources available to you, such as counselling through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Talking to others
  • Talking to others who have had prostate cancer can be very helpful. Often, people with first-hand experience can understand what you are going through in a way that family members, friends and others cannot.
  • Support groups can be a source of hope, camaraderie, comfort and knowledge. Ask your health care team or hospital about support groups for prostate cancer.
  • Spouses and other family members can also join support groups to talk about their experiences and gain knowledge (please see below for contact information).
Useful resources
Prostate Cancer Canada Support Network (PCCN)

Peer-to-Peer and Caregiver Support Program - TRUENrth

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