How do I tell people that my child’s treatment has failed?

It’s natural for family and friends to be worried and want to know about your child. Before telling people, prepare yourself. Think of what you want people to know, and how you may react to their questions and emotions. The most important thing is that you do what’s right for you as a family. It can be helpful to share your information with a key family member or friend and delegate them to let others know on your behalf if you would find this easier.

How do I tell my family and friends?

Breaking the news isn’t easy and it could make everything feel more real for you. Before talking to anyone, step back and think about how much detail you want to share. This might depend on how much your child already knows, or can cope with knowing. Be clear and firm with people, and ask them to respect your wishes around how much is shared in front of your child.

I’ve known situations with other parents where family or friends, often not particularly involved in the child’s welfare throughout treatment, will share information almost in an attempt to be the first to break the news or to get sympathy from their circle of family and friends because they have shared this ‘sad’ news. So, as well as thinking about what to share – also think about who to share with.


If your child is aware of what’s happening then you might want to talk with them to get their opinions about the best way to go about things – how much they want to share, who to tell first, how to break the news and whether they want to play an active part in having these conversations.

It will be easier with people who you’ve shared a lot with already. Honesty and openness is usually the best way forward when having difficult conversations, so don’t be worried about showing your own emotions or ‘getting it right’. Just explain the situation in the best way you can.

If it’s all getting too much and you need to take a time out, just say so. You might choose to talk to several people at once to save repeating this process or ask your CLIC Sargent Social Worker or another professional to be present while you do this, to help support you or answer any questions people may have. You could also nominate someone else to share the news with friends, co-workers and parents at school.

If you’ve been sharing your child’s progress online, then it might feel natural to write a post for your blog or social media. Just be mindful of comments and messages after you post.

How do I tell my work?

Try to be open with your manager about your situation – most will try to support you during this difficult time. Keeping them informed may well help them to work with you to put supportive arrangements in place. If it helps, your Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker can contact your workplace on your behalf to discuss your options with your manager or HR department.

When it comes to taking time off, here are some possible options:

  • Talk to your GP about a Statement of Fitness to Work (or ‘fit note’) to recommend reduced hours or flexible working, or to exempt you from work
  • Talk directly to your employer about reduced hours or flexible working – many employers will be sympathetic and may be able to accommodate a change of your work arrangements
  • Talk to your employer about special leave or compassionate leave. However, you need to be aware that this leave may be unpaid
  • Talk to your employer about unpaid leave if you can afford to and wish to have time away from work. It is important to take advice about the implications of unpaid leave for your national insurance, pension and continuity of service.

If you are worried about finances, are self-employed or already receiving benefits, talk to our welfare advice team for free support and advice. Call 0800 915 4439 or email

How do I tell my child’s school?

If your child still attends school or sees their classmates, sharing the news could have big impact on them – so think about it first and if appropriate, get your child’s opinion too.

Talk through your wishes with a teacher and make sure they are crystal clear on what your expectations are. You might be happy to share what’s happening with your child’s classmates. Or you might want it kept discreet for the time being, especially if your child isn’t fully aware and still goes to school, or their sibling does.

However, bear in mind that the school or teachers may also hold their own opinions on what, where and with whom the information should be shared – it may be that you won’t have full control over how the school manages this. If you’re having any problems, seek support from your social worker.

If your child continues attending school and wants their friends to know, they may need extra support in place from staff to help with questions or comments. It’s also a good idea to talk about their physical and emotional needs, and how the school might support them with this. Check if your child’s school has a palliative child or bereavement plan and if not, encourage them to make one. Winston’s Wish has expert advice on this that schools can access.

Your Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker can help you to think through your options and communicate with the school. You might even want to share this section of the website with them so they are better informed about what you and your family are going through.

What reactions will I get?

When telling people face to face, experiencing their reactions can be distressing. At first, people may respond with a range of emotions, from anguish and anger, to shock and numbness, or even awkwardness.

Some people’s comments might be a great support, or you may find them unhelpful, or even insensitive. It’s not unusual for people to find it hard to know what to say, or what words to use, even when they mean well.

It’s likely they’ll need time to deal with their feelings so try not to take it personally if people don’t respond in the way you expect.

In the longer term, people may find it difficult to understand how your life has changed. They will try to be supportive but they may not know how to approach you or how to talk to you about what you are going through.

You might find that people you had been close to drift away as they are not able to cope with painful emotions. Other people may surprise you and be supportive and helpful in ways that you would not have imagined. Make sure you take full advantage of any offers of help, especially for practical tasks such as shopping, cooking or helping to support a normal routine for your other children.

Sometimes, the most supportive people are those you don’t expect, and some of the people you would expect to be great are rubbish.


How do I deal with people contacting me all the time?

One mum said that people contacting her became a bit relentless and she was forever on the phone and missing time with her son. She asked people to ring or message her parents for updates instead so she could focus on enjoying precious time with her children.

If you are being overwhelmed with responses then it can be really upsetting to have to get back to everyone and answer questions over and over again. Usually, these people are well-meaning and don’t mean to cause additional stress. But it’s important to put your needs first and it’s ok to not want to talk all the time.

Share the responsibility with someone who is willing. Give someone in your circle of friends and family the role of being someone a ‘go-to’ person who gives out information and to whom everyone messages with their questions. Choose someone you trust and give them clear information that you are happy to share.

We had a Facebook page for Hannah which we used throughout her treatment to keep people updated on what was happening. It was invaluable to us as it meant we only had to update once, rather than repeat for each person but also people could keep updated without feeling guilty about contacting us.


You might also find this helpful

How do I support myself?

How to care for yourself when you face losing your child.

Find out more

Do I carry on with everyday life or make special times?

Finding a balance between carrying on with everyday life and making special memories.

Find out more

How do I talk to my other children about their brother or sister dying?

How to talk to siblings about their brother or sister dying.

Find out more