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Disclosure: Sharing With Family, Friends, and Acquaintances

What To Say

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What to say generally depends on why you're telling the person, the kinds of things you usually talk about, and the depth of the discussions.

There's no easy way to tell someone. Consider just being direct. People know when you have something to tell them that they're not going to be happy about. The minute you say, "let's talk" or words like that, they will hear it in your voice.

There are also no guidelines for how much information to share.

Consider the following ideas to help decide what you want to say:

  • One possibility is to just tell about your diagnosis, then ask if there are any questions. You can answer questions with a simple "Yes" or "No" or you can open up a discussion. One advantage to this approach is you don't have to reveal everything at once. You can just answer questions a little bit at a time.
  • Start the discussion by letting the person know there is a need or wish to talk rather than just blurt out the news. If you start by saying you have "bad news," you are setting the situation negatively. This will color the way the listener hears the news. Ultimately the stress that will bounce back to you. It is preferable to state the situation more neutrally. For example, you can say: "I have news." This is not meant to suggest that you use euphemisms or other words that make light of the situation and avoid words such as "death."
  • In addition to telling about the diagnosis, let the person know what you have learned about the disease.
  • Let people know whether you want them to censor what they say to you, and, if so, how.
  • Tell people that you need and appreciate their support. 
  • Ask for their understanding about unpredictable emotions that may arise at any time.  
  • Let people know you are in good medical hands.
  • Acknowledge the other person's emotions.
  • Answer their questions.
  • Let the person know about your immediate and/or long terms needs with which the person can help. Even if it is "only" asking for their emotional support or to help with helpful tasks. By discussing specific needs, you help change the subject from the news to an action plan. The discussion gives the news time to start to sink in.

Don't let a person's "right to know" interfere with your needs.  It is perfectly appropriate to respond to questions with someting like "I don't want to go into all of that" or "I would rather not talk more about it."

Speak out if someone offends you. When people are being insensitive, let them know.

NOTE: If you are telling a parent: Plan on supporting the person. Parents don't think children will die before they do and are likely to be especially upset by your news no matter how many medical advances have been made. Also expect a lot of questions.


Be patient and understanding with people. Give them time to adjust.

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