Iris Mini: Disclosure

“Respect depends on reciprocity.” – Nyang Proverb

You are in control of your cancer-related information. Before sharing, think about your relationship to the person, how much you trust them, and what they need to know. Where do they fall in your social circle? A close friend versus a work acquaintance? Consider how vulnerable you want to be and what feels comfortable. If you’re not sure, it may be helpful to share less rather than more.

Tips for telling others about your cancer:

  • Consider how ready you are to share information. You may want to process and understand information before you share it with others outside of your close network.

  • Set the scene. Think about the setting you are in and how this may contribute to your ability to be genuine and feel comfortable.

  • Visualize the conversation in your mind. Picture what you and the other person will look like. Imagine different things they may say and how you will respond. These exercises can help reduce anxiety about sharing.

  • Share or state what is happening and pause before you go into all the details so the other person can process what you are saying.

  • Before sharing, consider a “warning shot,” or a phrase to help alert the person that you are sharing something hard or emotional.

Examples of a “warning shot” statements:

  • “I have something important to tell you…"

  • ”This is hard for me to tell you…”

  • “This might be upsetting for us to discuss…”

  • “This might come as a shock...”

  • “This is very vulnerable for me…”

Tips for ongoing cancer-related communication:

  • Cancer can be hard to talk about. Both over-sharing and hiding information can cause distress.

  • Side effects of treatment and cancer can be noticeable to others and allow them to see that we are sick even when we don’t want to share. You can control what you say and how you welcome or deflect inquiries.

  • Your current mood when you’re sharing vulnerable information is important. If you have a strong feeling that may impact what you share and how, take a step back and consider if this is the best time to share this information.

  • It can help to have a selection of “back pocket phrases” that you can use when you want to quickly make a point or transition a conversation away from the details of your diagnosis or treatment.

Examples of a “back pocket” phrase:

  • When you don’t want to talk about cancer

    • “This is a cancer-free event for me. I’m focused on being here right now.”

    • “I’ve reached my daily limit for cancer-related conversation.”

    • “Cancer requires a lot of my energy, and right now I want to spend that energy on…”

    • “Thanks for your concern, but I promised myself some cancer-free time. Let’s talk about…”

  • When you want a quick way to respond to “How are you feeling?” and it is not honest to say “good” or “fine”

    • “There are ups and downs. Today is a good day, but others are difficult. This has been a lot for me, but I am getting through it.”


Telling Others About Your Cancer (American Cancer Society)

Sharing the News (Cancer and Careers)