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How to Explain Your Condition

People will look to you for clues on how to handle the news of your diagnosis.

Some of the biggest challenges cancer survivors face come from how others react to the diagnosis.

Often, friends, co-workers and even family members don't know how to communicate their concern. They may:

  • Avoid the topic — or you.
  • Pretend nothing has happened.
  • Make jokes to distract you from the disease.
  • Continue to see you as "sick," even when your cancer is in remission.
  • Continually tell you how good you look, ask how you really feel, or make other comments that indicate they see you as different.


The first couple conversations typically are the toughest. As you begin to tell people about your diagnosis, a few tips will make it easier for everyone concerned:

  • Practice telling people and responding to their questions and comments.
  • Don't feel you have to share anything about your condition that makes you uncomfortable. It's your personal decision. You can thank people for their concern and say you'd rather not discuss it.
  • Remember people will look to you for clues on how to handle the news. If you're open and calm, that will help them.
  • When you tell people, pick a private, quiet place. If you're comfortable with it, let them ask questions.
  • If you would rather just stick to the facts, consider telling people your diagnosis, what it means in lay terms, and your treatment plans.
  • With your friends, you may want to discuss your hopes and fears.
  • Give people time to absorb the information.


Deciding whether to tell your employer you have cancer is a personal decision. However, you can be protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) only if your employer knows about your disability. If you think your cancer or cancer treatment will affect your ability to work or carry out daily activities, it's a good idea to tell your supervisor.

Printed with permission from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center ©2010.

Medical Disclaimer for AARP.org

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