Posts Tagged ‘friend’s response to cancer diagnosis’

Cancer and Language

There are two types of language that surround the cancer diagnosis. The language that the doctors speak to you in, and the language you speak with your friends about the situation. Both need to be minded carefully.

For example, whenever a medical provider referred to my situation as “Your cancer,” I would either wince, or I would gently ask them to not give me ownership of that situation. I mean, yes I had been given a diagnosis of stage 2 grade 2 cancer, but to me, it was going to be “out” soon, so why would I want to own that? Why would I begin to identify with this deadly disease that would soon be a part of my past? If you are a medical provider, consider the words you use and if those words could be programming an unintended relationship between the patient and the illness. My friend Michael Ellner wrote a book for health care providers called “Hope is Realistic” several years back that gives more detail about the unconscious mind and how it is influenced by words-particularly words from medical practitioners.

And as a side note, another way the medical community can change lives is by NOT using male pronouns to refer to doctors and medical specialists. This goes from the pharmacists to the surgeons. It really does perpetuate a stereotype that continues to keep our young ladies from being seen as successful professionals.

The second type of language that we deal with is the language we use with our friends, and that they use with us. Most of the reasons given as to why friends back out of visiting or saying something to a friend or loved one who is stricken is that they just did not know what to say. So to those of you who are dealing with this situation right now, if you have a loved one or friend who is suffering, and you are avoiding them because you don’t know what to say, I say, don’t worry about it. Show up. Say nothing. Say “I don’t know what to say.” But show up. Bring a magazine, a juice box, a bouquet of weeds. It doesn’t matter. Just show up.

What about Friends?

For many, telling friends and family about a cancer diagnosis is a traumatic experience. In some families, as in my own, it might be prudent and preferential that older parents and very young children be spared the worry and stress of the unknowns of this insidious disease called “cancer”.

In my own situation, I carefully chose those people with whom I wanted to share the news. I had to tell some people because I was soon going to be in surgery and would need help regarding the fundamentals of post-surgical survival.

Fortunately, a few main people in my life stepped up and helped after every surgery I had. And to them I am eternally grateful. I am certain, however that I was alone more than I should have been and my life was damned uncomfortable at times.

So with the people that I confided in about the diagnosis, I asked of them to keep it quiet and not talk about it unless asked directly. This is just the way I wanted it to be. Every person who is diagnosed will have their own way of disclosing to relatives and friends that they are about to be at their most vulnerable. There is no right or wrong way to deal. In my program “From Diagnosis to Resilience,”  I guide you through many of the things that cause discomfort with guided-relaxation, self-hypnosis MP3s and self-realization/ self-soothing exercises. If you are someone who is struggling, I guarantee that it will bring you comfort if you use it.

The worst part about other people knowing to begin with, are the comments (although well meaning) and the information gathering that people close to the patient will do, and then share with the patient. Of course some of these revelations can be extremely helpful but others- well, others can impede decision making and cast self-doubt on every decision made. This can cause more trauma and delay important treatment.  That’s another reason why I recommend finding a navigation partner to help you schedule and gather information for your continued recovery. If you haven’t already, download my white paper entitled: “Ten Immediate Actions to Take if You are Diagnosed with Cancer.” This short paper offers invaluable information to the newly diagnosed patient. It will also be helpful for other serious diagnosis if you know of anyone who needs it.

Another very negative result of having others know that you have been diagnose is people’s natural propensity to want to share information with others who care about you; which on one hand is borne from compassion, but on the other, smacks of gossip.  The way I handled this was simple. I told only the people closest to me who had to know, and I asked them to keep it quiet until they were asked directly from anyone whom they knew would care.  For the most part, the only people who ended up inquiring about me to me were people who genuinely cared and wanted to help.

Make no mistake about it though, some friends disappeared, never to resurface again. It’s as if they thought that they could catch it  and got as far away as they could. My intellect tells me that everyone knows that one can’t “catch” cancer from someone who is fighting it, but for some reason people can’t handle seeing someone with whom they associate or relate to with it. I guess it hits too close to home–maybe it touches some fear or loss that is within them. So the response of some is to disappear, or get away and somehow excuse themselves. There is no good reason to judge them for it. It is a bit uncomfortable, however, to see them after recovery and know that this was the choice they made when you were so sick and needy. But life goes on and one must be able to forgive in order to get back into the workplace or the life from which you have been absent.  I chose to move forward with people by believing that they didn’t know why I was away. It comes down to the fact that most people are or will be dealing with something heavy, and nobody comes out unscathed. When struggling, I try to keep in mind that everybody is just trying to live their lives. Not only that, there are new friends to be made.

As Mark Twain once wrote: “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”


“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”–Mark Twain