A cancer diagnosis can be devastating news. When someone you know and love has received that news, it is hard to know how to approach that person. What is the right thing to say? What topics should you avoid talking about? Do they even want to talk about it?

When approaching the topic with your family or friend, consider that you are both probably having similar thoughts and feelings. And often times, talking through those thoughts and feelings with each other can be beneficial to both parties. In the end however, your loved one is the one dealing with the diagnosis, and there are certain dos and don’ts you should remember.

  • Do speak from the heart, and practice what you will say in advance. It is important for your loved one to know you truly mean what you say, and you should know what that is before having any conversations.
  • Do listen and allow time for your family or friend to say what they want to say, and if they start to cry or get angry – let them. It is important for them to express their emotions.
  • Do approach your diagnosed family or friend during a quiet time, or, even better, schedule a time that works best with them to talk. Your loved one will be extremely busy and have a lot to process following a new diagnosis, speaking with them when things have quieted down a bit will help both of you better prepare for what you each want to say.
  • Do respect your family or friend’s wishes. If they say they don’t want to talk yet, or don’t want to talk about certain subjects, give them time. The last thing they need during this time is someone making them uncomfortable.
  • Don’t try to force your opinion on treatments or other topics related to their diagnosis on your family or friend. Remember, this is their diagnosis, and they have the right to make all decisions, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Don’t come across as extremely scared or sad. It is OK to show a little emotion, but too much can add unnecessary anxiety in your loved one’s life.
  • Don’t try to make light of the subject or make inappropriate jokes. Many people resort to humor as a way to deal with bad news, but this is only OK if it is you who has just been diagnosed. It can come across as rude and uncaring if you are joking about someone else’s diagnosis.

In addition to knowing how to approach a family or friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer, it is also important to remember to take care of yourself during this time. Know that is OK to feel guilty, hopeless, sad and to worry, but don’t let those feelings overwhelm you. Your family or friend may need you to be strong for them, and you can’t do that if you let yourself stress or worry to the point of becoming sick.

Always look for the positives in the diagnosis and treatment of your loved one, and remember help is out there for you as well. Find a local support group or counselor if your feelings become too much to deal with on your own. And remember – you’re not alone.