Alex O'Brien


How to talk to loved ones about a serious illness diagnosis

How to talk to loved ones about a serious illness diagnosis

It’s hard enough to have your doctor break the bad news to you – that you’re suffering a life-threatening illness. But it can be even harder trying to find the way to tell your friends and family. According to a UK study, up to 25 per cent of patients considered keeping their diagnosis a secret. However, for your sake and the sake of your loved ones, you need to share it. Everyone comes to terms with the news in their own way, but here are some tips to help you let them know in the best way possible.

How to tell them

First, you have to decide how you’re going to deliver the news. Do you want to hold a family meeting, or would you feel more comfortable telling each person individually? Do you want to tell them yourself, or is it easier to have your doctor break the news? There’s no wrong or right way to do it, it’s just about what you feel most comfortable doing.

What do you need from them?

Generally, the first thing most people ask is, “how can I help?” It’s important to be prepared for this question whether you feel you need help or not. For some people, help means a hands-on approach – for example, taking you to and from the doctor’s, helping administer medications etc. – and for others it simply means being a shoulder to cry on. Be honest in telling them what you would like them to do and keep in mind that they just want what is best for you.

Educate them

For many family and friends of people suffering life-threatening illnesses, just knowing more about the illness itself can help them come to terms with the situation. Your doctor will be able to supply you with resources about prognosis, treatment, side effects and support groups. Share all the information you have about your illness with your family – just being informed will help alleviate concern.

Share your last wishes

It can be pretty morbid to think about, but the reality is that it’s always better to plan for the worst, even when hoping for the best. We’ve put together an easy checklist of things that you need to plan ahead for. Work with your family and discuss how you’d like to be farewelled, where you’d like your belongings to go and how your finances should be organised.

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