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Coping with Cancer Interventions for the Family
Cancer & Family continuing education social worker CEUs

Section 4
Communication About Cancer (Part 1)

CEU Question 4 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Cancer
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track we finished our discussion regarding eleven common reactions to a loved ones cancer.  These included a reevaluation of beliefs, the desire to bargain, anxiety, and hope, also uncertainty training was discussed in detail.

On the next two tracks we will discuss conversation guidelines.  The first five guidelines as described on this track will be ask first, if they don’t want to talk, knowing what to say, giving advice, and saying cancer.  As you listen to these next two tracks, you might consider playing them for your client whose loved one has been diagnosed with cancer.  Could these guidelines aid your client in communication?

Rick and Cathy, ages 39 and 36, were in couples therapy with me when Cathy’s mother, Paula, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Rick and Cathy were concerned after not having contacted Paula for several days.  Cathy stated, "I love my mother, but I just don’t know what to say to her."  Think of your Rick and Cathy.  Do your clients experience a loss of words regarding talking to their loved one with cancer?  Could the guidelines for talking to a cancer patient on this track help?

11 Conversation Guidelines (#1 - #5)

Guideline #1:  Ask First: To foster better communication skills between Rick and Cathy and Paula, I stated, "Ask first.  Many cancer patients have said that they just wished their friends and family had asked them what they needed before trying to help or talk about something."  Rick asked, "Well, we know she needs to talk about the chemotherapy.  Shouldn’t we just jump in and talk about it?"  I responded, "Maybe the topic you want to discuss is a great idea, but you don’t know what Paula is going through or what she wants.  And there’s only one way to find out.  Ask her, before you plunge in with what you think she needs."

Guideline #2:  If They Don’t Want to Talk:  Cathy asked, "What if she just doesn’t want to talk?"  How might you have responded to Cathy?  I stated, "If you ask Paula about the cancer and her answers are brief or evasive, she may not want to talk about it.  The message you may want to convey is "I care about you.  I want to listen if you need to talk.  I’m here if and when you do.  Beyond that it is up to Paula to take up your offer."

Guideline #3:  Knowing What to Say:  Rick stated, "When she does want to talk, how do I know what to say?"  How might you have responded?  I stated to Rick, "How many times have you poured your heart out to someone and when you are finished the advice he gives you makes it obvious he hasn’t heard most of what you’ve said?  Don’t mentally plan out what you are going to say next.  When you do, you end up waiting for your turn to speak.  Instead, focus on what Paula is telling you.  Pay attention to the tone of her voice, to her eyes, and to her body signals."

Guideline #4:  Giving Advice:  Cathy asked, "How will we know what kind of advice to give her?"  Think of your Cathy.  Does she really have the best advice for a cancer patient?  I explained to Cathy that she likely did not have the best advice to give. 

I stated, "Answers to the questions your loved one will ask may often be beyond your reach.  Giving unsolicited advice is a way of taking control over a situation.  In contrast, encouraging Paula to search for her own answers empowers her to take control herself."  Rick expressed understanding when he stated, "Paula probably just wants to vent.  By sharing her thoughts, she’ll discover the answers herself. If you do make suggestions to her, don’t expect her to use your advice.  Paula is gathering different viewpoints.  She will ultimately use only the ones that are right for her."

Guideline #5:  Say Cancer:  Other advice I gave Cathy and Rick regarding conversation guidelines included hugs and physical contact, maintaining comfortable posture and eye contact, and using the word cancer.  Cathy asked, "How do we talk about the actual…, disease with her."  I stated, "Don’t be afraid to use the word cancer.  Keep in mind that if it’s human, it’s mentionable.  You might consider saying things like, ‘What did the doctor say about your cancer on your last visit?’ 

On this track we have discussed conversation guidelines.  The first five guidelines as described on this track were ask first, if they don’t want to talk, knowing what to say, giving advice, and saying cancer. 

On the next track we will continue to discuss conversation guidelines.  The six guidelines for communication on this track are sometimes it’s best to begin with the facts, say how you feel first, don’t cover up your feelings, avoid judgment, and offer acceptance and support, validation, and cry

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Hesse, B. W., Beckjord, E., Rutten, L. J. F., Fagerlin, A., & Cameron, L. D. (2015). Cancer communication and informatics research across the cancer continuum. American Psychologist, 70(2), 198–210.

Mróz, L. W., Oliffe, J. L., & Davison, B. J. (2013). Masculinities and patient perspectives of communication about active surveillance for prostate cancer. Health Psychology, 32(1), 83–90.

Robinson, L., Kocum, L., Loughlin, C., Bryson, L., & Dimoff, J. K. (2015). I wanted you to know: Breast cancer survivors’ control of workplace communication about cancer. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20(4), 446–456. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 4
What are five conversation guidelines? To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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