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A patient’s guide to

Communication

It’s not just your body that’s affected by cancer, it’s your heart, mind, and relationships, too. Communicating can be challenging on a regular day, let alone when you have cancer. We’re here to help when you don’t know where to start or what to say.

Talking to your caregiver

If cancer is a team sport, then your primary caregiver is your go-to person – the Hopper to your Eleven or the Gayle to your Oprah if you will. Your day-to-day relationship might shift while you both figure out your new reality, but at the end of the day they’re still the same person that knows, loves, and sometimes annoys you. Which is why having open and honest communication with them is really important.

Set the tone

Set the tone for how you want to communicate. Your loved one is there to support you and is likely just as confused as you are. Start the conversation and figure it out together.

Be open

Be open about what you need emotionally. Whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, a place to sit in silence together, a visit to a rage room, or a night of comedy specials – let them know.

Be yourself

Even with cancer, your loved one still wants to know about your life outside of cancer, laugh at the same jokes as you, and bond over the same shows. Don’t let cancer disrupt every aspect of your relationship.

Be honest

Don’t sugar coat things or avoid tough conversations. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you are thinking and feeling, even if you don’t know exactly what that is. Acknowledge what’s hard for both of you, what you’re scared about, and what your limits are.

Acknowledge their feelings

Recognize that as someone who deeply loves you, your caregiver is going through it too. Check in with them and ask how they’re doing. You might find that you’re feeling similar things and can help each other through it.

If you lose your cool

It’s normal to have good and bad days. If you lash out or do something you regret, give yourself some grace – you’re going through it, but so is your caregiver. Apologize, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

If they lose their cool

They’re in this with you, so the good and bad day rules apply to them, too. If they lash out or do something you don’t like, let them know and talk it out.

If needed, call them out

It’s not your job to make people feel comfortable with your cancer. That said, it can be easy for the cancer elephant to feel like it’s a big part of the room. If you sense your caregiver is acting differently towards you, don’t be afraid to remind them that you have cancer, it doesn’t have you.

Things that are totally okay to say

Adjusting to your new normal can feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. Here are a few things that are totally normal and okay to say to your caregiver no matter where you’re at with cancer.

“Fuck Cancer!”

“I’m terrified and I don’t know what to do.”

“I need help with…”

“I know you are trying to help, but it bothers me when you…”

“How are you doing with everything?”

“Can we watch a movie together tonight?”

“What do you think is working right now in our dynamic and what isn’t?”

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“I know this is a lot and I appreciate you.”

“I love you, but you’re driving me crazy.”

Communicating your needs

When well-meaning friends and family find out about your cancer, it can easily become overwhelming. They may want to talk about your diagnosis, process with you, or drop off casseroles, and flowers with a side of sad head tilts. Let’s be honest, there’s only so many “I’m sorry about your cancer” casseroles that one freezer can hold. Or they might just say “Let me know how I can help.” No matter their response to learning about your cancer, here are a few ways to manage the influx of support.

Take them up on their offer

You’re going to be asked “How can I help?” a lot. Don’t be afraid to take people up on their offer. The key is to be specific and get help with the exact things you need so you don’t end up with another effing casserole.

Use apps

Apps can be a great way to send updates and ask for help. You can even ask a trusted friend or family member to be in charge of updating and managing the apps so you don’t have to think about it.

Communicate as you see fit

Different people in your community need different information. Trust your gut. If you want to reach out or share some news with someone, that’s okay. If you don’t, that’s okay too.

Set boundaries

These will look different based on the situation, but the sooner you establish boundaries the better. You’re doing the best you can and you don’t have to field every communication that comes through if you don’t want to. You’re allowed to experience cancer how, when, and with whoever you want to.

Protect your peace

It can be hard to know what to say and, it turns out, even harder to know what not to say. Sometimes the most well-meaning people can say the dumbest things. Each situation is different so use your judgment on how to handle these scenarios, but don’t be afraid to protect yourself from these people if it gets to be too much.

Opinions aren’t facts

You don’t have to accept anyone’s opinions about your cancer. This experience is yours and how you cope with it is for you to decide. Just because your friend can get ordained to officiate your wedding online doesn’t mean a WebMD rabbit hole makes them an oncologist.

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