Sunday, February 17, 2013

Compassionate Cancer Communication

Sometimes I feel like I am constantly doing research around cancer. I am always looking for ways to interact better with people who have been diagnosed. Since I have not gone through my own cancer experience, I feel I need the background in order to serve people better.

A while ago I came across a great article written by Lori Baker called "What Not to Say to People With Cancer". It was published in a magazine for the staff of M.D. Anderson, as a way to help them better communicate with cancer patients. Baker's suggestions of how to communicate can help us all. Even if you don't work with cancer on a regular basis, the odds are you'll be in contact with someone with cancer at some point. Here are some tips on how to make that communication more compassionate and, potentially, more healing. You can find the complete article here.

  • Sincerity and caring
  • Empathetic/realistic statements: “I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
  • Genuine and specific offers of help
  • Treat me like you did before I was diagnosed/Talk about something other than cancer
  • Respect my choices/wishes: the treatments I’ve chosen, when to be alone, not talk about it, etc.
  • General questions that let me decide how much to share: “How is your day going?" (rather than “How are you doing?”)
  • “You’re not alone.” “I’m in this with you all the way.” “We’re here for you.”

  • Telling stories about others with cancer, especially if a patient died
  • Saying, “I know how you feel.”
  • Telling me how I should feel/ what I should do (including mind-over-body comments, alternative therapies*)
  • Trite, over-used platitudes/ metaphors
  • Pity
  • Unrealistic optimism: “Things are going to be OK.” “I’m sure you’ll feel better/get out of the hospital soon.” “One day you’ll look back and see the good that came out of all this.”
  • Any comments on hair loss/ re-growth
  • Comments that indicate it’s behind me: “You’ve beaten it.” “You’re cured.”
  • “You’ll get back to your old self.”
* You could take this statement to mean different things: keeping the perspective of the writer in mind, you could see this comment as a way for the medical institution to ensure its plan is not questioned, and its patients not highjacked; or, you could see this as a way for patients to reduce unsolicited advice and remain focused on the task at hand. I choose the latter interpretation. The work that I do falls into the category of "alternative therapies", so I will always speak about it, but only if asked. (I remember all the unwelcome advice I received when I was pregnant - what to eat, wear, listen to, exercise to, journal about, etc., which was kind-hearted but mostly unhelpful.) Everyone has their own cancer path to follow and no one really knows which one they "should" take.



Please see the Events page for more information about these upcoming special programs:
  • Wednesday, February 20: Next 6-week series of Restorative Yoga for Cancer Survivorship begins at Kaiser Santa Clara; for more info, see Schedule
  • Sunday, March 31 (Easter): OM for Peace
  • Saturday, April 7 - Sunday April 8: Yin Yoga 14-Hour Immersion
  • Saturday, April 7 - Sunday April 8 AND Saturday, April 13 - Sunday April 14: Yin Yoga Teacher Training
  • Sunday, April 28: Yin Yoga 1-Day Workshop