Monday, May 16, 2011

Communicating about the Big "C"

Developing Resources and Skills To

Help You and Your Companion Person

Communicate About Your Cancer

An Overview of a Workshop by Dr. Dilley

Cancer defines some things about us. But it does not define us. I am not a cancer patient or survivor, I am a person with cancer and who has survived cancer for 10 years. Why does cancer rock our world more so than some other diseases? Silence, fear, anxiety, depression, and shame, and what I call "THE GREAT UNKNOWN" all impact our experience of living with cancer.

What is cancer? Cancer is abnormal cell growth, stuck in the “on” position. It is the generic name for over 100 diseases that share similar characteristics of malignant cells. A malignant cell is a cell that has lost its mind and is sucking the life out of other cells to survive. 10 Million people survive the malignancy every year. So what is the problem? The problem is that the “cell” is out of control. It must be killed. It will not stop on its own. Thus, the wonders of chemotherapy. Then radiation to “make sure”. But the real problem is the fear it creates within us and between us. Thus we have to talk about it.

So how do we talk about it? The “C” Word ignites our innate Defense Mechanisms of survival. Thus, whatever stressors we have in our lives and our relationships become magnified with that sentence that each of us have heard come out of our doctor’s mouth, “I am sorry, but you have cancer.”Remember that day? I bet you remember every detail of that moment. You knew it was coming. You knew that when you saw your oncologist after surgery, that he/she would have your path report. You were already feeling shaky, scared, and lost, then those words fall out of his/her mouth and your world is turned upside down. Life as you have known it, has come to an end. Who do you tell? What do you tell them?

What are some safe ways to talk about the big "C"?

Journal what you want to say, then edit it.

Write a letter to your companion.

Ask someone else for help to express what you need to say.

Tell your companion, I want to talk, but I am not sure how to say the things I need to say. I need you just to listen and not comment. Then, after you think about it, we can talk. I just don’t know how to do this. So I am going to do my best.

What are some questions to ask when your partner has cancer?

1. What is the hardest part for you right now?

2. What does this treatment do to me/you?

3. What do you need from me right now?

4. Can you share with me what is going on in your head right now?

5. How are you feeling about what is happening?

6. I hear you are sad about losing your hair. Can you tell me about it?

7. I hear you are angry that this is happening to you. I know you are. I am angry too. It should not be happening, but it is. I am not afraid of your anger. You can share it with me.

8. “What can I do to make you more comfortable?” Notice how different that question is rather than, “Can I do anything to make you more comfortable?”

9. I would like to go in with you to see the doctor. Four ears are better than two. Would you like for me to go in with you?

10. I don’t know what you are feeling right now. I do care. Can you talk to me about what you are thinking or feeling?

Things to remember:

Cancer does not define us

Cancer gives us many opportunities to change

While wrestling with this disease, it will be best if we communicate to our companion the things we want, need, wish, desire, and feel.

Words do not have to be so scary.

What's the goal? There are many goals in this race against time, however, there is only one goal that both of you have control over. That is this goal: Live the Best Life Possible in the Time You Have.

Live the Best Life Possible in the Time You Have.