5 Steps to Communicating Your Way to Empowerment

By Winnie Yu

Cancer and its treatment regimen (including chemotherapy) affect everything from your health and emotions to your job and finances. A recent study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that managing communication counteracts feelings of helplessness during a turbulent time. “Making thoughtful decisions about how to talk to people about your cancer can help restore a sense of control, which seems to help people cope,” says Erin Donovan-Kicken, PhD, an assistant professor and one of the study's authors. Here are five ways to take charge of the conversation:

  1. Time the discussion appropriately. Revealing your diagnosis on a joyous occasion or when others are struggling can be upsetting to them. To make your news less devastating, wait until those events are over (or at least less stressful) before disclosing your diagnosis.
  2. Choose your audience carefully. Share your news with only the people who you think will support you and respect your wishes; they often include loved ones. Withhold the diagnosis from people you feel may not be supportive.       
  3. Reveal only as much as you want others to know. Some people want to talk about their illness, while others prefer to keep thoughts and feelings private. Not even trusted loved ones need to know every detail about your illness or treatment. Limit information if you’re trying to preserve a professional or personal identity and don't wish to be seen as “weak” or “sickly.” Keeping conversations short and straightforward is often the best approach.
  4. Be assertive. If you don’t wish for or need help from others, let them know. On the other hand, if you would like help from others, though, tell them exactly what they can do, whether it's making meals or providing rides to treatment. Be sure to talk about your illness on your terms. If well-meaning friends begin discussing cancer when you’re not in the mood, say, “Thank you for your concern, but I need to focus on something else today.”
  5. Be as emotional as you want to be. If you feel like expressing sadness or fear, then do so. If you want to prevent a conversation from becoming too emotional, though, consider other means for communicating, such as email or instant messaging.
Published December 2011

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