Telling people

This is something I’m thinking quite hard about, and would be interested to find out how other ladies in the same position deal with the delicate matter of telling other people.

How, and when, did you tell others about your diagnosis?

In my own situation I happened to mention to my youngest two that I couldn’t pick them up from school and they’d have to get a bus home because I had a doctor’s appointment at the GP. They asked why, so I said I’d found a lump that I wanted to get checked out. After that they asked about any other appointments I had and wanted to know how I got along, so it wasn’t difficult to tell them as we do have a pretty honest relationship which I’m very glad about. I told my older daughter (21) just so she also knew what the younger two knew, but she was going away on holiday so I didn’t want to worry her. Failed on that one though, as she told me when she got back. Somehow or other I got round to telling my son (23), think it was after the diagnosis, and it turns out his girlfriend’s mum is about two months further along the journey. Obviously I mentioned the lump and various doctors’ appts to my other half, but he hasn’t told his two children who live with him because I was still getting my head round it when he asked how I wanted to handle it.

I have made the conscious decision NOT to tell certain sections of my life, mainly bits of my social life with lots of people many of whom I don’t know particularly well, as I want to have some parts of my life that are “normal”, for a while anyway. Have any of you done that? Did it work for you? I have PMed a couple of good forum friends (obviously not on this forum) and have since had long conversations with them, but won’t share with the wider forum.

Found it rather uncomfortable telling people who aren’t friends but do need to know, such as the Job Centre and assorted recruitment consultants, but I did manage to do so in a factual way without blubbing so I was proud of myself for that.

Not sure how to deal with my dad and my sister. Dad’s 88 so no spring chicken and he’s a real worrier so I might wait a while, at least until after Christmas and the new year until treatment really starts kicking off. He’s already been a big help to me generally but I don’t want him to stress about something he can’t do anything to help with, other than what he’s doing for me already. I’m not close to my sister and I don’t want her to tell my parents’ other daughter (won’t call that one my sister) as I specifically don’t want her to know and crow.

So how did you get your head round telling people? Did you take this “staged approach”? I think it’s to do with trying to face the diagnosis inside my own head first but you may have had different experiences.

Oh, and are you like me and can cope if people are matter-of-fact and business-like with you but burst into a blubbering pile of soggy tissues if people are nice to you? My GP called me when she received the diagnosis letter from the clinic and I absolutely bawled like a baby down the phone to her, but that’s because I can hold things together fairly well until people are nice to me, and she was being really lovely. Makes me really cross when I fall apart all over the place though.


Am sending you a PM.


It can be tricky deciding. I emailed a lot of friends, as I was too strung out and tired to want to be picking the phone up all the time, and emailing meant I could choose when I replied, and ignore stuff when I didn’t.

Kids were hard - but I’ve been utterly honest in an age appropriate manner, and it’s worked for me. The only wobble my two littlies had was when I was actually in hospital, and my 6yo asked her dad if they would cut my boob off with scissors… I showed her the bandaging when I got home the next day, and she was fine after that. The older kids have had their wobbly moments, but so long as we keep talking we’ll be fine.

Other than that, I found I fell into the blurt it out camp - if anyone asked me how I was, I told em!! Did think about keeping it quiet in certain circles, but things do have a way of leaking out into wider circulation, so in the end decided just to be totally up front about it - after all, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, if I figure everyone can know, then I’m not worrying about who I’ve actually told…

Do understand your family dilemna - I was dx two days before my parents’ Golden Wedding Party - had to endure a whole day of family and friends asking how I was, and lying through my teeth so as not to put a cloud over the big day! Told mum about three days afterwards… and she took it very well, upset, naturally, but I think because I was upbeat and positive, she’s found it easier to deal with. (She’s almost 80, and Dad is 83). With your not-a-sister relative, screw her, is my honest feeling. Can’t imagine that anyone would be impressed by her, if she were to have a smug attitude - and don’t let your life be dictated by worry about her reaction, she is just not worth the time and effort. Just my opinion, and I know it’s not that easy. xxxxxxxxx

Sophie x

I told a few close friends who were so great at diagnosis, and asked them to tell people as and when it was appropriate. Ditto with work. So much easier for me, not having that ‘how are you?’ dilemma -do you lie (fine thanks) or do you tell them you have bc, such extreme options! So I found as I go about most people know.

And I found wearing a scarf after my hair fell out so much easier than telling people who I didn’t know well! Like my son’s rugby team mums.

And yes I did want people to know. Felt it empowered me somehow, didn’t have to pretend all the time (and it got me out of doing teas this season at the rugby club!)

the only times I have worn the wig, ie have wanted to be normal, have been nights out in the pub, shopping in town ( but not every time) or appointments with the children eg orthodontist.

Good luck with your decision, however you decide.

I think its a personal thing. Who you tell and when, I, like you told my kids I was going to docs, as I knew they would wonder where I was when they came home, but they didn’t ask too many questions and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done telling them, I told my family when dx, but really worried about telling my gran as she is 82, and has lost a few friends to cancer, so I asked my mum to tell her, and she was ok about it. I haven’t told everyone at work, not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed about having bc, but I just couldn’t cope with the people asking me if I was ok, as you said, people being sympathetic just made me blub, but I know rumours have gone round and most people at work know, but I don’t cry as much now all my treatment is nearly over! But I have realised that some of my friends who I only see at Christmas and birthdays, haven’t been told, but I’m sure they’ll understand.
So I would say just tell whoever you want to don’t feel pressurised, but be prepared for people to tell you about all the friends they know who have had bc and are now ok, or they tell you everything will be ok ( because obviously they are all doctors now!), it just because they don’t know what to say.
Also my youngest goes to lots of drama groups, and I did wonder whether to tell them or not, but I thought it best that he has somewhere that he can forget about mum being ill, as school know (cos I work at same school), but he knows its not a secret, and he could tell them if he felt he needed to.
Good luck with whatever you decide to do x

Very interesting replies, ladies, thank you.

Hi Chocciemuffin,
When I was dx I only told my 3 sons, all grown up, and sisters and brother.
Like you I didn’t tell any friends until the last time I saw them before the op. I found this worked really well for me as I too needed some normality in my social life. It was so much better to go out and be able to push it to the back of my mind for a while with no-one feeling that they had watch what they said to me. It also gave me some time to come to terms with it myself.
As for your so called sister, you sound as though you have a lovely family so you don’t need her, so let her stew!!
Sending you a hug xx

Stew? Rotting in hell would be better.

I’m dealing with this on a “need to know” basis, I suppose. I’ll probably be a bit more forthcoming with telling people once I actually FEEL sick. (And yes, I know that will go on, and on, and on…)

I think you go with what is best for you. How you feel may change over time. I couldn’t say the word ‘breast cancer’ for a month and e-mailed and texted people who had to know, including my children! Then I couldn’t stop saying the word ‘breast cancer’ and so now everyone knows including the postman! The trouble with this is that people ask me all the time how I am or tell me how well I look which can be a strain.
As a teacher of small children, I would echo what Sophie says about being honest in an age appropriate manner as when children sense something is wrong but don’t know what it is, they imagine all sorts of dreadful things. I’m not sure how young your other 2 children are, but if you can cope with it, you might want to tell the school as they will keep a eye on them and be more understanding of behaviour changes.
With regard to blubbing, I have got really good at it. I recently managed to cry at a Pantomime because Jack’s Mum was not being nice nice…
Good luck with what ever you decide.
Wendy x

Oh this is such a difficult subject! We had already gone through it when mt daughter was diagnosed and had to tell her siblings, including then 7 year old brother…and with him we never mentioned the word ‘cancer’ as he was bound to go to school and blurt it out as he is that outgoing type and wuld then have one of his mate saying ‘oh my gran/aunt/mums friend/ dads boss etc etc died of that’ and be devastated…there are books about mummys lump etc…but what about big sisters…!!!

So we had had all the hushed enquiries of ‘…and just how is your daughter?’ and having to deal with it when I was diagnosed…

So I decided to go out all guns blazing as the first email I got was from a rival in business saying ‘I’m so sorry to hear you have…leukemia’…OMG…I had to squash that flat and make sure the vultures didn’t start to gather.
So I have been very open, decided to go wigless and have done a couple of radio interviews too…not specifically about bc bit have mentioned it in passing…

Not everyone can do what I did and there is no right or wrong way and the fact that I’m very so what about it all has helped remove a lot of others terror, and that has helped me too!

Oh MS ChoccieMuffin - you struck a few chords with me - not least on the other female child of my parents - I like that! I told my equivalent - not for her sake, for her daughter’s as there is alreadya strong family history and I want to make sure my niece gets checked. Having told her in Mar 09 when I was diagnosed, we’ve not heard a peep from them - oh yes, I lie - we get the horrendous round robin Xmas greeting email, full of news with not even a personal ‘how you doing’ on the end. ~I could be dead for all she knows or cares. Well bu**er her, that’s all I can say.

I adopted a policy of tell everyone who might want / need to know by email, and ended with a ‘don’t expect to hear from you, realise it’s a shock - handle as you will’ line. I then followed this with updates to the same group whenever I had one, like check up, surgery, out of surgery, my chemo journey etc. A lot of people seemed to appreciate it, and dropped me a one liner back, which cheered me, or sometimes a longer epistle. That way I didn’t have to cope with phone calls at the wrong time etc. I did lose one good friend who just couldn’t handle it - I had no birthday card etc from mim initially, then no Christmas, and finally this year I managed to return ‘the favour’ on his birthday - depsite lots of self guilt. I just have to accept that the 18 years or so of friendship (just that - he’s gay! - were over. The updates obviously worked - as I’ve progressed and am now a year out of treatment, I’ve had a few emails / phone calls basically asking how I was as they’ve not heard!

Hope this helps a bit, and maybe gives you an idea!!

The school knows there’s “some family bad news” as the girls stayed off school the day after the diagnosis, but I haven’t told them specifically what it is. Girlies are 12 and 14. 14-yr-old wants to know it all, 12-yr-old simply doesn’t, but I have told her that if she wants to know details, she just has to ask. I’ll take a lead from them and won’t ram it down the youngest’s throat, but if she’s in the same room as the other one when I’m talking, she’ll get to hear. That is generally the way she’s often absorbed things so it works for us. Big girlie is 21 and doesn’t live at home, son is 23 and stays at mine some of the time and at his girlfriend’s some of the time but is looking for his own place as mine’s a bit small.

Hi Choccie Muffin

I didn’t want to tell people as I didn’t want to be looked at any differently. I told my husband by mobile from the car park of the hospital after I’d been to the breast clinic. He knew I was going but I’d told him that although the GP had referred me she had said it was probably nothing (she was shocked when it wasn’t). The consultant at the breast clinic was pretty sure what it was but I had to go back 4 days later for confirmation after they’d looked at the core biopsy. During that 4 days I told my parents (in their 60s), my friend from next door, and my boss. After the confirmed dx I told my 2 younger sisters but left my parents to tell my grans (aged 90 and 94) and my older sister (who I don’t get on with). I then told the other 2 people in my office and my best friend from my last job. But after confirmation of the dx in the morning, I and my husband both went to work. I continued to work up to and including the day before my mx. I didn’t tell anyone outside family during this time but once I was away from work for the mx I was quite happy for my colleagues to tell whoever they wanted. I’m having chemo now so I’ve been away from work a long time, so it would be tough to ask them to be vague about why my clients are seeing someone different.

I told some friends that I rarely see via a letter (handwritten in each case) in their Christmas card. Some were in touch immediatately, others have ignored it. Other friends just got a Christmas card as usual on the basis they don’t need to know.

Told OH, DD and DS when found lump plus two very good friends.
When I was referred to hospital told my mum and she told my brother, but went to all hospital appointments on my own because despite all the assurances it would be a cyst etc etc, knew that it wasn’t.
Friend number one came for the actual results, and then I started to telling people that needed to know in relation to work etc. Tried to keep the initial group small, cos was not sure at that stage whether chemo would be needed…and although was not bothered about people knowing I had BC, didn’t seem much point.

Once I knew I would have to have chemo, have gradually widened group, but I do go for the brutal approach when people I haven’t seen for a while ask how I am…it is shocking for them, but there is no way of dressing it up.

Have been completely honest, and now am getting messages from people, who I know but as acquaintances rather than friends…

I think you have to go with the way you feel comfortable, and I have said to people I don’t want them to be nice to me about it, because that’s when I have trouble keeping my act together.

SJ xx

Re telling your children, mine were 12 and 14, I told them at each stage. Lump, tests and cancer diagnosis. I think it is important to use the word cancer or they will hear it from somewhere, or wonder and worry.

My daughter (14) was very shocked by the word, but I then told her the good side, the fact that they could remove it all etc. My prognosis is good but I have not discussed the percentages with them, i don’t think they need to be pointed towards the less likely and less positive outcomes. Neither have I lied and said I will be cured 100%

I did look them in the eye and tell them that other people would tell them other stories about cancer, but that this was my story and not the same as anyone else’s. I promised to tell them if there was anything they needed to know.

I have been impressed how they have dealt with everything. I agree about telling school ( by letter to head of year, thought you should be aware etc.), my son’s work has gone a little downhill, despite him being apparently less affected.

I hope this helps

I actually went one step further last night and stuck it on my news bit on fb - something I’d avoided up to now, but as have lots of local peeps on there, thought it would be easier than explaining baldy head in town, and to be frank, now that those I really care about all know, I don’t give a stuff who else does. Easier for me to assume everyone knows, and I haven’t found overbearing sympathy to be a problem cos I just have a laugh about my mono-breasted status, and don’t leave any room for long faces and funereal voices…

Have had a lot of touching, supportive messages since going fb public - anyone who can’t cope is perfectly entitled not to have to - but this is my battle, and I’m not hiding it from anyone - they can come along and cheer if they wish, and then I can move forward from it once chemo etc is over.

But then, shy and retiring are not words to describe me… nor discreet, quiet, humble…hehehehe

Sophie xx

I told everyone via face book and my web site i also update on both sites as it saves me making a load of phone calls. Im an open book anyway and thats not for everyone.
I also appreciated the support from all my friends on FB who did Reiki and distant healing. Also collective thoughts. It all helped and supported me. The daily comments telling me i am as tough as old boots and would survive has been great.

I did tell another person, one of a group of people who will have to step up and do some of the volunteer stuff I was down to do during Feb/Mar. The group is all going out for Christmas dinner on Tuesday evening, so I’ll let them know then. (Think I’ll wait until after pudding though, don’t want to spoil a good evening particularly as we’re all paying for it!)

Other half has told his kids, but they haven’t said anything to me and haven’t looked at me differently or anything, which is good. Mind you, I haven’t fallen apart in front of them, either. I tend to save that for my own lovely brood (poor things), or the middle of the night when no-one else is awake.

Off into town to start my Christmas shopping. I’d already cancelled it before the diagnosis so it’s soooo far from what I want to do right now. But needs must, I suppose.

Told the boss of a company I had a contract with recently and where I was due to get some additional work soon. He was, as I expected, really good and said they do want me to do some more work for them as and when I am able (and when they have work for me to do) so that was a really good result for me.

Also told the lady in M&S when I went in to by my post-op bra, and she was also very good. (She tried to find her colleague to do the fitting for me as her colleague has also had breast cancer but she was at lunch. What great service, eh?)

Now I have to write letters to the heads of year in my children’s school. I did tell the girls I would be doing so, and the youngest said “Just make sure you tell them to tell my class teacher NOT to talk to me about it!” What a great kid she is, I’m so proud of her. She knows her own mind and knows what is best for her in dealing with this. I know what she means though, and I said I’d be specific in asking them that, saying that she’ll talk to them if she needs to but they should wait for HER to approach THEM and not ram it down her throat. This “telling people” thing affects the family as much as it affects me.


I’m in the blurt it out camp.

The initial day of going to the breast clinic on 16th nov was the life changing moment. I arrived there as a teacher and left as a cancer patient. I hadn’t told my parents who had the kids after school where i was in case there was nothing to worry about, but obviously this plan fell at the first jump. So i told them all at once. My teen was obviously concerned, my 6 yr old not really aware if you know what i mean.

I went back to work the next day but had to keep leaving the classroom in tears. It didn’t help when a colleague cheerily told me that when my hair grew back it might be poker straight!!! I hadn’t even got there yet! I’ve not gone back due to all the tests it would be so disruptive and as sophie says too many germs.

I too have told the schools but had to moan when a teacher told my oldest that my hair would fall out. (why do people need to go on about hair!) I stressed that we hadn’t got to that point with her yet and that it was the family’s place to drip the information as we felt appropriate.

Now if i see people and they ask how i am i tend to try to prepare them for bad news, tell them, giggle then apologise! No idea why i giggle obviously nerves. x