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Talking with Family & Friends

Why is it hard to talk with family and friends about caregiving?

Many caregivers find it difficult to speak with the person who is sick. You and your loved one are in this together, but your experiences and roles are very different. For example, the cancer patient may be frustrated that he or she cannot do more. And you, the caregiver, may feel stressed and overloaded because you have too much to do. You may have negative feelings but not want to burden one another. Both of you may be deeply afraid.

You may also find it hard to speak with other family and friends about what you need in the way of help, and/or how you’re feeling. There are likely to be conflicts that cause communication issues. These should be dealt with when possible. You may not feel comfortable talking about your own needs when you’re not the one with cancer. Open communication with family and friends is important even if it is hard to share.

Talking openly and honestly is a must. You have practical challenges that need to be handled and feelings that need to be dealt with.

What sort of things do we need to talk about?

Here are some things that you may need to talk about:

How can I better talk with others about caregiving?

Here are some tips for talking with the person you are caring for and others on the caregiving team:

  • Set aside time to talk. Find a quiet time without interruptions.
  • Ask if it’s a good time before you start a talk. Be clear about why you want to talk, and what you hope will come from it.
  • Try to avoid serious talks when either party is likely to be tired, like at the end of the day or for the patient following chemotherapy.
  • Think about what you want to say ahead of time. You may even want to practice.
  • Use "I" statements like, "I have a hard time talking about this, too." Avoid using "you" statements, such as "You always..." or "You never...”
  • Try to have open body language, such as making eye contact, and not crossing your arms
  • Be patient and be sure that you “hear” and understand
  • Try staying calm when you talk and not getting angry or blaming others for your feelings.
  • Summarize what the other person has said to be sure that you have understood.
  • If the other person seems to have misunderstood, try explaining what you meant with different words.
  • Allow the other person to talk. Listen and try not to interrupt.
  • Try not to hold back to protect one another’s feelings, and ask the other person to do the same.
  • Know that the other person may not want to hear what you have to say. And, know that you may not like what he or she has to say.
  • Don’t feel like things have to be settled after one talk. It is important that the conversation is started.
  • Speak from your heart. Try not to be critical of yourself and the other person. Don't feel that you have to always say, "It'll be okay."
  • Consider technology for ongoing communication, smartphones, webcams, (virtual family gatherings).
  • Keep in mind that people express their emotions differently than you do.
  • If you are having a hard time talking with the person you are caring for or others involved in caregiving, get help. Consider seeking the help of a licensed counselor, therapist, or clergyman to mediate the conversation. Your doctor can suggest someone.
  • Today the use of the phone, Facebook blogs, and CaringBridge may be used to stay connected.

Talking may be hard in the beginning. But it will get easier if everyone is open and honest about their feelings. Things to remember when communicating with technology:

  • Use a safe and secure platform
  • Don’t use it for negative conversations
  • Keep it short but clear
  • Know the “lingo”
  • Don’t share too much

What do I do when someone says something hurtful?

Some people may not know how to talk with you about cancer and caregiving. Their well-meaning comments may be hurtful. It is OK to feel hurt, angry, or shocked. Here are four ways to deal with insensitive remarks:

  1. Be straightforward and honest. Tell the person that the question or comment hurt your feelings.
  2. Ignore the comment and try not to take it personally.
  3. Answer questions in a general way to avoid further discussion. It is your right to share as much or as little as you want.
  4. Ask to continue with the conversation at a later time when everyone can think clearly. Communicating with family and friends can provide support and encouragement to make the cancer journey easier.


  • Tiete, J., Delvaux, N., Liénard, A., & Razavi, D. (2021). Efficacy of a dyadic intervention to improve communication between patients with cancer and their caregivers: A randomized pilot trial. Patient education and counseling, 104(3), 563–570.
  • Van der Wel, M., van der Smissend, D., Dierickx, S., Cohen, J., Hudson, P., De Velminck, A., … & Witkamp, E. (2022). Systematic translation and adaptation of the FOCUS program, a USA-based supportive intervention for persons with cancer and their family caregivers, for use in six European countries. Support Care Cancer, 30(12), 9763-9770.
  • Zhou, J., Chen, X., Wang, Z., & Li, Q. (2023). Couple-based communication interventions for cancer patient-spousal caregiver dyads’ psychosocial adaptation to cancer: A systematic review. Healthcare, 11(236), 236.