Deciding who to tell

It can help to take some time to decide who to tell about the cancer and what to tell them. You might not want or need to tell any business contacts about the cancer. Or you might find that telling some people is helpful.

When you are self-employed, other people or businesses may rely on you to:

  • deliver your goods or services
  • make payments to them.

They need to know if these agreements will be affected. This does not mean you must tell them you have cancer. But if you do, they may be more understanding.

We have more general information about talking to people at work about cancer.

Reasons to tell people about the cancer

  • They will understand why you need longer deadlines or more time to pay.
  • You could find them very supportive and get practical help.
  • It might prevent embarrassing mistakes or misunderstandings on their part.
  • You might have to tell the other person, because it affects or protects your contract with them.

Reasons to limit what you say

  • They may worry you are not reliable.
  • You might want privacy, and you cannot guarantee everyone will respect this.
  • The conversation might get emotional when that is not helpful to you or your business.
  • The other person or organisation might not respect your rights or treat you fairly.

It could help to imagine what the other person's concerns and reactions might be. You can then prepare responses to reassure them or give them more information.

Person What they might worry about

That is a shock. What do I say now?

Will you be able to do the work? And will it be on time?

Will the work be of the same standard?

What if this changes our agreement?

What are my health and safety responsibilities? (If you work on their premises or are a sub-contractor).

What does the contract between us say (if anything) about this?


Will you be able to pay me?

Will it be on time?

What are my alternatives?

When will things go back to normal?

What does the contract between us say (if anything) about this?

Banker or creditor

Can you meet your payments? How? When?

Are you now a higher credit risk?

What will happen if you cannot make payments?

What alternative arrangement could be made?


Does this mean the business will close down?

Will you be able to pay me?

Will my workload increase or decrease, and can I cope with that?


Deciding how to tell people

Everyone has different ways of communicating. Some people like to talk about their thoughts and feelings, while others are quite private. Cultural differences matter too.

If you decide to tell someone about the cancer, these tips may help:

  • Think about what you are going to say. You could write down a few main points, especially if you will be talking on the phone.
  • Try to choose a good time to talk. Are you feeling able to talk today? Does the other person have time to give you their attention?
  • Is it better to tell them over the phone or in person? If face-to-face will be better, choose somewhere you feel comfortable.
  • Be prepared for the emotions you may both feel. You may not know about their past experiences and you do not know how they will react.
  • Be careful about telling people in writing. It is easy to get the wrong idea from an email or note, and it can seem impersonal.

Ask people to respect your privacy and make it clear if you want them to keep your conversation confidential. Think about whether this will put them in an awkward situation.

If you have a business partner, you could ask them to tell people, if you feel this would be easier. It may not be fair to ask an employee to tell others about your situation. But make sure they know how to respond and who to turn to for advice if anyone asks questions.

As with any big decision, you may want to talk to someone you trust and ask for their opinion first. You can ask a professional adviser, such as your accountant. Try to have important conversations when you are feeling your best, and be clear what your goals are before you start.