How Do I Talk About Lung Cancer?

Here are some points to consider when you think about telling people about your lung cancer:

  • Decide whether it will be easier for you to tell people about your lung cancer in groups or one on one.
  • Sometimes having a family member tell people you have lung cancer is easier and less stressful.
  • Expect different reactions. People may not react the way you anticipated or you think they “should react.” People have different ways of processing stressful news. Some people may want to help and others will not offer right away. This doesn’t mean they don’t care. It is their way of coping with it.
  • Think about how much you want to share and what topics are too sensitive for you to talk about yet. If people says things or bring up topics that bother you, be ready to tell them you prefer to talk about something else.
  • People want to help but they don’t know how. Be clear about what support you need. Maybe you just need someone to listen or maybe you need something more specific like help cleaning your house or cooking meals.
  • Because this is such a stressful and emotional time, it can be helpful to work with outside sources like a counselor, spiritual advisor, psychologist, pediatrician (for telling children) or a social worker to get extra lung cancer support.

Q: “So, did you smoke?”

It is common for people to speculate “how” you got your lung cancer. They may ask, “Did you smoke?” or offer their own theory. This is very frustrating for many people with lung cancer, whether they did or did not smoke. People have different ways of coping with this challenge, but some suggestions are to say:

  • “It doesn’t matter why or how I got lung cancer, I really need support as I go through treatment”
  • “No one really knows exactly why I got lung cancer and I prefer not to focus on that.”

Remember, many people don’t know how to react to the news that a loved one or friend has lung cancer and aren’t aware that their comments may be hurtful. The person asking the question is often trying to reassure him or herself or “explain” cancer. You can direct the conversation by letting them know how they can best support you during this time. 

Q: How do I tell someone that I have lung cancer?

A: It is hard to know where to begin. Thinking about sharing the news with your loved ones, friends and even your employer can be overwhelming. It is important to remember: There is no right or wrong way. You have to share the news in a way that is most comfortable for you. It certainly would be more convenient if there were a “one size fits all” approach to telling people about your lung cancer. Just as your relationships are different, the experiences you having discussing your lung cancer will be different.

Spouse or Partner

  • Tell your partner in a private place.
  • Anticipate a strong emotional reaction.
  • Your partner will probably be shocked initially. The shock will wear off and your partner will most likely want to support you in any way possible.
  • Tell your partner what you need. No one is a mind reader and your needs will change over time and over the course of your lung cancer treatment. Remember, your partner probably has never been in your situation before. He or she needs guidance as to how to best support you.

Children/ Grandchildren

  • Many parents’ instinct is to protect their children and grandchildren. You might consider not telling them. Though your intentions might be loving, it is in everyone’s best interest to tell them.
  • Children can sense something is wrong. You don’t want to prolong anxiety by not being up front with them. If your children are young, talking with a professional like a pediatrician, social worker, or psychologist can help you figure out the best way to tell them.
  • Young children fear their parents will die and will likely ask if you are going to die. Be prepared to answer that question.
  • Older children are in a position to help and support you. Let them know how they can help. Don’t be afraid to accept help, even if you are not used to being in that role with them.

Employer

  • There will come a time when you need to discuss your cancer diagnosis with your employer. Be honest and realistic about your needs and time off.
  • Tell your employer if you don’t want him or her to discuss your disease with coworkers.
    • Make a list of work-related changes you think you might need while you’re in treatment like changes to your schedule or workload.
    • For some, talking to their employers about these requests can be worrisome. Remember that federal laws protect lung cancer patients against discrimination. See what employers are legally required to do to help you during and after your lung cancer treatment.
    • Your human resources department can help you discuss work changes with your employer.
    • Keep a record of all communication. Not only will it help you stay organized, it will protect you in case your rights in the workplace are ever compromised.