Macmillan Cancer Support offers advice

NATIONAL Cancer week will run until Sunday.

To coincide, Macmillan Cancer Support offers advice regarding talking about cancer.

Talking about your cancer

After a cancer diagnosis you may find it difficult to talk about what’s happening and how you feel. It’s common to find it awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable and even painful to talk about your illness with family and friends. However, you may be quite surprised - and pleased - with the changes that can be brought about by simply talking.

Tell the person you want to discuss issues related to cancer

You could say something like, ‘I want to talk about things that are quite difficult.’ This lets your listener know that what follows is something important to you.

Try to be specific when talking about the things that worry you

You may prefer to take things in stages. You can start talking about awkward subjects by saying something general, such as, ‘I’m worried about how things are at the moment’ then it’s easier to go into particular areas.

Say if you’ve been worrying about something a lot

You could say, ‘For the last few days, I’ve really been worrying about ...’. This lets the person know how important the issue is to you and they can focus on that.

Check that the other person understands what you are saying.

You can use any phrase you like to do this, such as, ‘Do you see what I mean?’, ‘Does that make sense to you?’ or, ‘Do you understand?’

Try to make sure that what you’ve said has been heard

If you’ve asked for some things to be done, it’s worth summarising - for example, ‘So you’ll come with me to the appointment on Tuesday to discuss the treatment, and ask Dorothy to collect the children ...’.

After the main topics, it’s okay to go back to small talk

You don’t have to discuss serious issues all the time and just chatting about everyday things can help you feel that normal life goes on.

Is it good to use humour when talking about difficult subjects?

Humour can be a useful way of coping as it can help make situations less frightening. If joking has been part of the way you’ve coped with challenging things in the past, it might help you now.

Talk about day-to-day things

Having cancer doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to talk about anything else! Most people find it normal to talk about other aspects of everyday life as well as the major issues that they face, so you don’t need to feel limited.

Talking to someone with cancer

When you first learn that someone close to you has cancer, you may think, ‘What if I say the wrong thing?’ and ‘I don’t want to hurt him.’ Many people find it difficult to talk to a person with cancer. Here is advice on how to talk, help and support people who are affected by cancer.

Does the person want to talk

Your relative or friend may not be in the mood, or treatment or symptoms may mean they don’t feel well enough. They may want to talk about ordinary things, such as TV or what’s happening in your life. There’s something reassuring about everyday small talk, and sometimes people simply want to enjoy a ‘normal’ conversation.

Encourage the person to talk when they are comfortable

You can encourage the person who’s ill to talk about what’s on their mind. Nod or saying things like, ‘Yes.’, ‘I see.’ or ‘What happened next?’ These all sound simple, but during stressful times, it’s the simple things that help.

Use silence

If someone stops talking, it can mean that they’re thinking about something painful or sensitive. You may sense what they’re thinking or feeling. Wait a little - hold their hand if you know them well enough - then ask what they were thinking about. Don’t rush, even if the silence lasts for a while.

Say how you feel

It may be helpful to say things like, ‘I find this difficult to talk about …’ or ‘I’m not very good at talking about ...’. You may worry that this that will cause further distress. But in practice it tends to have the opposite effect, and the person to may be relieved that someone understands.

Stay with the subject

If your relative or friend wants to talk about how awful they feel, let them. It may be distressing for you to hear some of the things they say. However, it can really help them if you’re able to stay with them and just listen while they talk.

Don’t be too quick to give advice

You may want to advise your relative or friend about something. But it’s maybe more helpful to listen for as long as they wish to talk, then ask if there’s anything you can do to help. They may come up with something unexpected.

Use humour wisely

You may say that there can’t be anything to laugh about if someone has a major illness but humour is a way we deal with difficult things. Laughing at what feels threatening brings it down to size, gains perspective and helps people feel more in control and able to cope. It may also help the person feel like their normal self.

Allow your friend or relative to be sad or upset

Let a relative or friend to be sad or upset. They may want to talk about difficult topics, such as the chances of being cured, whether it’s worth having another course of treatment or making a will. If your loved one cries, say something like, ‘It’s OK; it’s fine to cry.’ to tell them you’re not put off by tears.

For advice, support or a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm) or visit