Talking to Your Family About Your Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

“Your family wants to help you through this in any way they can.”

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Your loved ones care deeply about your happiness and your health, so when you find out you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer—or breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast—you might worry about how your friends and family will handle the news.   

“It can be very scary to think about how you're gonna tell your family, and how they're gonna react to this,” says Natalie Berger, MD, hematologist and oncologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital. “Now, not only are you going through this, but your family is going to be going through it with you as well.

Should You Tell Your Loved Ones?

It’s not uncommon for patients to feel so worried about burdening their loved ones with their diagnosis, that they contemplate not telling them at all. As intimidating as it may be to break this news to your loved ones, it’s highly recommended.

“Going through this alone is something that you should really think about closely, because having a support system, even if it's just one person who you trust who’s close to you, whether it's a friend or family member, is really important,” says Dr. Berger.

Your loved ones provide both emotional support, as well as logistical support as you go through the treatment process. Having a loved one to support you has many benefits, such as attending appointments with you for support and for an extra set of ears, or helping you complete everyday tasks while experiencing treatment side effects.

“By identifying roles and different tasks that your family members can do for you, it takes the guesswork out of it. It makes them feel useful. It makes them feel like they're helping you, and it does help you,” says Dr. Berger.

For example, a friend could help bring your child home from soccer practice when you have chemotherapy, or your brother could help you with your grocery shopping when you don’t feel up to driving. These are small tasks that can make a big difference in your life.

Tips for Talking to Your Loved Ones

It’s up to you who you want to share the diagnosis with, as well as how many details you want to give. You have no obligation to tell acquaintances, co-workers, or strangers, and it’s your right to tell inquirers that you would prefer not to talk about it. 

It’s common for loved ones to not know exactly what they should say to support you. You might find some of their comments unhelpful, like “just be positive” or “everything happens for a reason.” It may be helpful to tell your loved ones that you just need someone to listen, and you’re not necessarily looking for advice.

While complications with your loved ones may arise, the benefits of their support will likely outweigh them.

“Your family loves you, your family wants to be there for you, your family wants to help you through this in any way they can,” says Dr. Berger, “so overall it's just so important to talk to your family about these things and work together.”