How can I tell if my friend wants
to talk about his cancer?
JAMIE SCHWACHTER: The first thing to
think about is your relationship with your
friend. How close are you? Did your friend
tell you about his diagnosis, or did you learn
about it from someone else? If your friend
hasn’t mentioned his cancer to you, it may
be a sign that he doesn’t want to talk.
If the subject does come up, you might
feel like you don’t know how to act or
what to say, and your friend may feel the
same. I recommend that you be frank. Ask
him whether he would like to talk about
his cancer. He may say no, but at least
he’ll know the door is open. If your friend
doesn’t want to talk about his cancer or
becomes tired of talking about it, respect
his wishes. He might decide to talk about it
later, and he’ll know you’re there for him.
In these conversations, it’s important to
follow what I call good cancer etiquette.
There are things you should avoid saying to
your friend. For example, don’t tell him you
know what he is going through. Everyone
reacts to a cancer diagnosis and treatment
differently, and you don’t really know
what your friend is going through even if
you’ve had cancer yourself. Don’t say “you
don’t look like you have cancer” or “things
happen for a reason.” Sometimes, people
find themselves at a loss for words and
these things come out. But statements like
these negate your friend’s feelings.
The most important thing you can do
for your friend is to listen actively. Remain
focused on him and avoid making comparisons to other people and their experiences
with cancer. Take your time and maintain
good eye contact. It’s OK to show emotion,
as long as you don’t make it about you.
Sometimes, talking may be too difficult
for your friend. In that case, consider
sending a card, an email or a thoughtful
text message now and then to let him
know you are thinking about him. And
remember, every conversation doesn’t
have to be about cancer. Sometimes the
best thing you can do for a friend is to
catch a funny movie and laugh together.
No talking required.
TALKING ABOU T CANCER // The American Cancer Society
offers advice on how to be there for a loved one with cancer. cancer.org/
yourheart/listen-with-your-heart-intro // Cancer and Careers
discusses what to say to a co-worker with cancer. cancerandcareers.org/
en/at-work/co workers/ what-to-say // CancerCare details what not
to say to a friend or family member with cancer. cancercare.org/blog/
My anxiety when I go in for scans
is overwhelming. How do I cope?
KATHERINE DUHAMEL: Feelings of
anxiety can be intense as the date of a scan
approaches. We even have a special name
for it: scanxiety. It’s now recognized that,
just like any other cue or trigger, scans in
patients who have experienced a life-threatening illness like cancer can lead in
the most extreme cases to flashbacks and
other symptoms of post-traumatic stress
disorder. If you are feeling anxiety, it can
be reassuring to know that what you are
experiencing is a conditioned reaction that
is not uncommon.
The number one way to help with
anxiety is just to breathe. Find a good
relaxation, mindfulness, self-hypnosis or
meditation exercise that works for you.
That’s the physical part.
Next, consider the way that you talk
to yourself. Sometimes your internal
dialogue can be unhelpful. You might
be telling yourself things like “I can’t
stand it” or “I can’t go through treatment again.” It’s useful to evaluate these
thoughts and to come up with more
helpful alternatives. For example, tell
yourself that if the cancer comes back,
you’ll be able to cope. Remind yourself that you are in good hands. Simply
repeating to yourself “I think I can, I
think I can” sometimes helps.
I ask my patients to generate their own
helpful thoughts and write them down or
put them on their smartphones. Boil them
down to a quick sound bite—something
you can repeat easily and quickly to yourself when you get anxious. Make sure the
thoughts become so familiar that you can
recall them readily.
In some cases, anti-anxiety medication
in combination with these strategies is
helpful. Social support is also key. Find
a friend, spouse or other loved one who
can coach you. Perhaps you can practice meditation or relaxation training
together. Seek out a therapist you can
talk to, a good support group, or both,
either in person or online. And remember, you can get through this.
COPING WI TH SCANXIE T Y // Memorial Sloan Kettering
Cancer Center offers several guided meditations for relaxation
and stress relief. mskcc.org/playlists/guided-meditation-relaxation-and-stress-relief // Roswell Park Cancer Institute offers tips
for coping with scanxiety. roswellpark.org/cancertalk/201607/
coping-scanxiety // The National Institute of Mental Health
explains the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.