Even so, communicating with others
about a serious medical condition can be stressful. For a study
published in Behavioral Sciences
on March 2, 2017, a nurse from the
City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer
Center in Duarte, California, spoke
with 20 people who were caring
for lung cancer patients. The study
found that communication difficulties with the patient, family
members and health care providers affected caregivers physically,
psychologically, socially and spiritually. The researchers concluded that
efforts to improve communication
skills among caregivers could help
If you are struggling to find the
right words when talking about
cancer with your loved one, family
members or health care professionals,
the following suggestions may help
make it a little easier:
Communicating With Your Loved One
• Don’t assume you know your loved
one’s thoughts or feelings or what is
best. Ask him or her directly.
• Try to have the hard conversations, such as discussions about
sex and death. You may have some
false starts, but continue to talk
• Discuss practical aspects of care,
such as medical expenses or possible scheduling conflicts with
treatment appointments, as soon
as you can to head off problems.
• Be an active listener. That means
concentrating on what your loved
one is saying, rather than thinking
about what you want to say next.
• Remember that conversations about
cancer can bring up a lot of emotions. If you become angry or upset,
try to calm yourself down by taking
deep breaths or counting to 10.
• Ask your loved one what health information you should share with others.
With Family and Friends
• Don’t feel responsible for keeping
everyone in the loop about your
loved one’s care. Choose a few people
who can do the talking for you.
• It’s OK to keep certain details private.
• Be clear if you need support from
others with specific tasks related to
your loved one’s care.
• A friend’s or family member’s perspective can provide clarity, but you
can still firmly assert that you don’t
need to hear certain information,
such as news of miracle cures.
With Health Care Providers
• Be sure your loved one has given
doctors permission to discuss health
care issues with you. Your loved one
may need to sign a release form.
• If possible, choose one doctor or
nurse to go to with questions or
requests for additional information.
• Before your loved one’s appointments, take the time to prepare a
list of questions. Prioritize those
concerns by order of importance.
• Ask the doctor to explain or repeat
anything that you don’t understand.
No matter where you are in your
caregiving experience, remember that
everyone, including doctors, struggles
to communicate at times. If you need
help talking things out, don’t hesitate
to ask for a referral to a counselor or
an oncology social worker, who can
provide practical tips to help you navigate difficult conversations.
AIMEE SWARTZ is a writer based in
Washington, D.C. Her partner, Jackie, has been
living with multiple myeloma for 14 years.
HOW TO DEAL WITH
These tips can help make talking about cancer a little easier.
As a caregiver, I talk about cancer a lot, whether I’m discussing multiple myeloma treatment options with my partner, Jackie; relaying updates about her
health to our family and friends; or sharing my thoughts about
Jackie’s condition with her care team. It’s a responsibility I
don’t think too much about because I do it all the time.