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Expressing Empathy: Part 4

Expressing Empathy: Part 4

Choose Words with Care

It’s common for us not to know what to say when we hear that someone has cancer or another serious illness. Responses vary depending on the magnitude or seriousness of the news. How you respond may also depend on how close you are with the person giving the information. Timing is a factor, too. Being caught by surprise can sometimes leave us tongue-tied or not knowing what to say.

Here are some sensitive and compassionate statements to help you respond with care to someone’s cancer diagnosis or news.

  • I’m thinking of you.
  • You seem worried.
  • Is there anything I can do for you?
  • You’re not alone on this journey.
  • I see why you are concerned about this.
  • I care about you and your family.
  • Do you need a hug?
  • Tell me more about what is worrying you.
  • You’re in my thoughts every day.
  • I’ll pray for your recovery.
  • I’ll be here for you.
  • It sounds like you’re feeling _______________.
  • I’m not sure I’ve ever been in your position, but I can imagine it’s very difficult.
  • Thank you for sharing your update with me. It must be difficult news to report.
  • You have a friend in me during this experience and after.
  • This news is concerning to me. I’ll help however I can.

And remember…sometimes we don’t have to say anything at all, but rather just be there for them.

This research project was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (CA144235; Dr. Wayne Beach, San Diego State University, Principal Investigator). Co-investigators included Dr. David Dozier from San Diego State University, and Mary Buller, Dr. Valerie Myers, and Dr. David Buller from Klein Buendel, Inc.

Managing Emotions: Part 3

Managing Emotions: Part 3

Emotional Disclosure

Sadness, joy, anger, surprise. Emotions are a natural part of human nature. Humans are wired with chemicals and connections which allow us to feel and react to life’s events.

Positive and negative emotions are an inevitable part of a cancer experience. Sometimes, it can be beneficial to share our emotions because it alleviates some of the stress of attempting to hide true feelings.

Even though it can be helpful, it can also be challenging for some people to disclose their emotions or feelings.

Practice Emotional Disclosure

  1. Reflect on 3 experiences in the past few weeks that have felt overwhelming or had a lasting effect on your overall mood.
  2. Choose a person with which to disclose these three experiences. Often it will likely be a spouse or person significantly involved in your current struggle.
  3. Tell your partner something similar to the following statement:
    • “I have something I have to get off my chest. For these things, please try to put yourself in my position. I hope this helps you gain an understanding of what my experience has been like. For this, I would like for you to just listen without problem-solving, reassuring me, or giving advice. This is just for me to get some emotions out which have been difficult for me to keep in.
  4. With as much detail as possible, describe your 3 experiences from the last few weeks with pauses to give your partner chances to respond or ask questions. Be sure to include both the story and the emotions involved in your experiences.
  5. If you are able, offer chances for your partner to share similar experiences.

This research project was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (CA144235; Dr. Wayne Beach, San Diego State University, Principal Investigator). Co-investigators included Dr. David Dozier from San Diego State University, and Mary Buller, Dr. Valerie Myers, and Dr. David Buller from Klein Buendel, Inc.

Managing Emotions: Part 2

Managing Emotions: Part 2

Strategies for Positively Coping with Cancer

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.*

See a situation in a positive light. For this coping strategy, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a situation, reframe it and consider positive outcomes. This is a common technique used by people who have a serious illness or have suffered a loss. Often individuals unconsciously do this by comparing their situation to others who seem to have it worse.

Kathrine Bellamy joined support groups and became very active in the pediatric brain cancer community when her son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Part of the reason was to stay informed and connect with people who could understand how she was feeling. Another part was to track her son’s progress against those of other children. He responded well to surgery and treatment. Other children did not. Eventually, her participation in the cancer community took an emotional toll. Even though her son had two years of tests showing he was cancer-free, her personal involvement in other children’s lives amplified her fears about her son. She worried the cancer would return and that he might die. Her husband pointed out that her involvement in the groups, which had helped her at first deal emotionally with her son’s cancer, was now making her feel worse.

While comparisons may help a person cope with their cancer or their caregiving role, having another person make that same comparison is likely to backfire and be perceived as insensitive. Denver resident Diane Martin shared a story about a breakfast she had with friends. The conversation turned to recent losses the group had suffered. One woman was getting a divorce. Another woman’s teenage son had died in a car crash. Martin’s husband, Nate, had also recently died from multiple myeloma. One of the women told Martin that at least she could get a new husband but a child couldn’t be replaced. Deeply hurt, Martin abruptly left the lunch.

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Learn to Share Respect: Part 3

Learn to Share Respect: Part 3

Seeing Respect from Different Angles

Sometimes we’re quick to judge others’ behavior and label them as disrespectful. But if you look deeper and with empathy, you may find that something entirely different is actually going on. In this activity, you will examine a situation from two different angles – from the perspective of family members and the perspective of a cancer survivor.

Read the following scenario:

Your brother-in-law, Marcos, has been saying he’s very tired since his cancer treatment ended six months ago. He’s often too exhausted to attend family social gatherings. You haven’t seen him in three months. He missed his son’s school band concert and even his own birthday party. On the other hand, he regularly goes golfing and plays poker with his friends.

Answer the following questions:

  1. What do you think is going on with your brother-in-law?
  2. Do you think he is respecting or disrespecting his family?

On the surface, he’s not respecting his family. It’s inconsiderate to miss a child’s concert or a party your spouse spent time and effort to plan for you. Why would Marcos do this? Could there be something else going on?

Consider an alternative explanation:

There’s no excuse for inconsiderate behavior – but there may be an explanation. Perhaps Marcos is doing really well since his cancer treatment and he has been ready to move on from it — but his family is not. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be the center of attention anymore. Also, maybe he thinks it would be better for them to put this experience behind them.  They supported him through a tough time and he thinks they deserve a change. Maybe he has talked to them about it but they just won’t listen. In this scenario, he may be more comfortable playing golf and poker with his buddies because they listened. They respect his wishes. They don’t ask him questions about his cancer. They treat him like a regular guy. And it feels good.

Now answer the following questions:

  1. How do you feel about this explanation? Does it change your opinion about his disrespectful behavior?
  2. How do you think Marcos’ family was or wasn’t showing him respect?
  3. Can you empathize* with him? Can you respect his perspective? Could you respect his wishes going forward?
  4. What can you do in the future to understand the behavior of people in your life that seems disrespectful?

Take a second look! Seeing a situation from the other person’s perspective is a definition of empathy. Empathy can foster understanding. Understanding can promote acceptance and approval. Approval can lead to esteem. And esteem is a form of respect.

This research project was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (CA144235; Dr. Wayne Beach, San Diego State University, Principal Investigator). Co-investigators included Dr. David Dozier from San Diego State University, and Mary Buller, Dr. Valerie Myers, and Dr. David Buller from Klein Buendel, Inc.