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Living Well With MBC > Talking With Others

Talking With Others

Whether you have had a recurrence, or this is your first diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer (MBC), sharing the news with family and friends can be difficult.

It’s important to remember that telling others about your diagnosis is a personal choice. There’s no one right time or way to do it. Who you tell, what and how much you share, and when you share it, are all up to you.

Some people may feel more comfortable talking openly about their diagnosis, while others choose to tell only the closest people in their lives. The conversations you have will be different depending on who you’re talking to, but remember that you’re in control of the conversation.

How people may react to learning about your diagnosis

Think about how you felt when you first learned you have MBC. You may have felt sad, angry, scared, shocked, or confused. Your family and friends will probably have many of the same emotions. It is important to allow them to express these feelings.

It may take some time for people to take in what you have told them. While some people may know exactly what to say or do, others may not.

  • They may struggle with finding the right words, and say something awkward or unhelpful
  • They may say nothing at all because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing
  • They may act too cheerful because they’re not able to show that they are scared or sad

Getting ready to talk

Before telling others about your diagnosis, think about the who, what, and when’s of your communication. Mapping these things out in advance can make each step feel more doable.



Practical tips for talking about MBC

Here are some tips for talking with the important people in your life about your MBC diagnosis.

Your spouse or partner

Your spouse or partner will likely be the first person you tell or talk with about your diagnosis.

  • Ask them to go with you to an upcoming appointment with your doctor
    Learning about MBC and its treatments will help them understand what to expect.
  • Give them time to adjust
    They may be as overwhelmed and frightened by the news of your cancer as you were.
  • Let them know what you need
    If you want your spouse or partner to take an active role or you’d prefer to take care of everything yourself, let them know. Realize that your needs may change over time.
  • Ask them what they need
    Talk to your spouse or partner about what they need to feel supported and take care of themselves. Let them know that it’s important that they continue to make time for doing activities they enjoy.
  • Discuss possible shifts in roles
    You may not be able to take care of your family and home the way you used to—at least on some days. Think about what assistance you might need now or in the future, then ask family members, friends, and neighbors for help.
  • Talk about possible changes in your sexual relationship
    Metastatic breast cancer and its treatments can affect you both physically and emotionally. Be open and honest with your partner about what you’re feeling.
  • Get professional help if you need it
    If you’re having trouble communicating, a therapist, counselor, or social worker can help you and your partner through difficult conversations.

Young children

  • Tell them they did not cause the cancer by their behavior or thoughts, and that they can’t “catch” cancer from you1
  • Use simple words
    You may want to use a doll or stuffed animal to show your children where the cancer is located in your body.2
  • Ask your children if they have questions about what will happen now that you have cancer
    Answer only what they ask.
  • Attention spans at this age are short
    Keep conversations brief. Be prepared to talk more at another time.
  • Be direct
    Don’t be afraid to use the word “cancer.”

Teenage children

  • Tell them they did not cause the cancer by their behavior or thoughts, and that they can’t “catch” cancer from you1
  • Provide more details than you would to young children

Share most of the facts about your cancer diagnosis and treatment plan. Details can include the name of the cancer and the basics of your treatment plan. Let them know you will always tell them what is happening. Choose a quiet place to talk where you won’t be interrupted. Allow enough time for your teen to understand the information and ask questions.

  • Encourage them to express their feelings3
    Whether that’s sadness, anger, fear, or confusion. Let them know that whatever they feel is normal.
  • Be positive, but realistic
    Reassure them without making promises about the future. Let them know that your doctors and nurses are doing all they can for you.2
  • Give them permission to keep life as normal as possible
    Let them know that they should continue to focus on their schoolwork and other activities and spend time with their friends. Tell them it’s still okay to have fun.
  • Ask if they understand what you’re telling them and if they have questions
    If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to say you don’t know.

Adult children

If you have adult children, your relationship with them may change. You may:

  • Ask them to help with making health care decisions, managing bills, or taking care of your home
  • Ask them to explain medical information
  • Need them to go to with you to the doctor or pick up medicines
  • Turn to them for emotional support
  • Need their help with your physical care

Other relatives and friends

  • Be prepared to accept and ask for help
    One of the first things many people ask when they learn someone they care about has cancer is if there’s anything they can do to help. Have some specific suggestions in mind, such as helping with running errands or child care.
  • Don’t take anyone’s reactions personally
    You will probably talk to some people who don’t respond the way you want or expect them to. This is not your fault; it is because they don’t know how to cope with you having MBC. It may help to tell only family and friends who can give you the kind of support you need.
  • Let them know how you prefer to be in touch

After you share your MBC diagnosis, you may find yourself overwhelmed with calls and visits from family and friends who want to check in on you. If so, you may want to:

  • Use e-mail or social networks to post regular updates on how you’re doing. Or, consider assigning a person to keep everyone up to date
  • Screen your calls and return them at the end of the week or ask a family member or friend to return them
  • Limit visits to 1 or 2 days or evenings per week

People at work

  • If you work, you may be wondering if or how to share your diagnosis of MBC with your employer. You may want to consider telling your employer if:
    • You may need time off for doctor visits or because you don’t feel well
    • You’re eligible to take sick leave
    • You’re applying for a new position
  • If you do decide you to tell your employer, here are some things that may help make the discussion easier:
    • Understand how metastatic breast cancer and its treatment will affect your work
      Before you go to your employer, talk with your doctor about what to expect. That way, you will be prepared to discuss your treatment schedule and any accommodations you might need, such as flexible work arrangements.
    • Talk to your Human Resources (HR) department
      Once you’ve told your boss, they will probably need to communicate the information to the HR department. You may also want to go directly to your HR representative to learn more about company policies and your rights in the workplace.
    • Keep a record
      Employers are usually supportive of employees with cancer, but this isn’t always true. It’s a good idea to keep track of discussions you have with your boss or HR department.


  1. American Cancer Society. Telling others about your cancer. Treatment & Support. cancer.html. Accessed November 13, 2019.
  2. American Cancer Society. Helping children when a family member has cancer: dealing with a parent’s terminal illness—children age 3 to 5. Treatment & Support. cancer/dealing-with-parents-terminal-illness/preschool.html. Accessed September 10, 2019.
  3. Dana Farber Cancer Institute. For parents: talking with children about cancer. For Patients and Families. services-and-amenities/family-connections/for-the-patient/talking-with-children-about-cancer. Accessed September 10, 2019.
  4. US National Library of Medicine. Talking with a child about a parent’s terminal illness. Medline Plus: Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed September 10, 2019.
  5. Talking to young children. Day-to-Day Matters. Accessed September 10, 2019.
  6. American Cancer Society. Helping children when a family member has cancer: dealing with a parent’s terminal illness—how do I talk to my children about dying? Treatment & Support. cancer/dealing-with-parents-terminal-illness/how-to-explain-to-child.html. Accessed September 10, 2019.
  7. American Cancer Society. Helping children when a family member has cancer: dealing with a parent’s terminal illness—children age 6 to 8. Treatment & Support. /children-and-cancer/when-a-family-member-has- cancer/dealing-with-parents-terminal-illness/six-to-eight.html. Accessed September 10, 2019.