Giving Advice to Cancer Patients

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

For anyone who has ever been a cancer patient, it seems like a natural response to want to help someone that they encounter who is newly diagnosed or starting a new type of treatment that one has already experienced. After all, who wouldn’t want all of the help and expertise that you can provide based upon your own experience? Who better to help someone make choices than someone who has already had to make those very same or comparable choices? But, after taking a bit of a closer look, one might want to reconsider before jumping in and directing someone else’s course of action even when you have the best of intentions governing your intentions.

If the patient is allowed to make the choices that are most comfortable to them, they will feel empowered with regard to their treatment and there is nothing that will help them more in their recovery than to feel like they are in control.Barbara Jacoby

A cancer patient’s mental well-being is just as important as the physical. Whereby shock is the initial reaction from anyone who receives such a diagnosis, the fear that will ensue most likely will be with a patient not only during treatment but long after treatment has been completed, if not for a lifetime. Therefore, it is extremely important for anyone who wants to impart knowledge to a patient to be aware that your words can actually do more damage than provide good results.

It is certainly most helpful to volunteer your services to go along on appointments to help collect information and ask questions that you know that need to be answered for any new patient. And there are certainly so many other tips that can be provided to help with all of the non-medical aspects of life that will ease the various treatment paths. However, for many that have had cancer, there may be a tendency to council or provide authoritative information to someone based upon personal experience but your best intentions could go awry.

Perhaps before saying anything, a survivor might want to think about how they felt when facing the beginning of their treatment. I don’t think any of us would have wanted to hear about any of the negative side effects that someone else experienced prior to our own experience. After all, since we are all individuals and physically and mentally so different, one from another, why would we want to scare someone with thoughts of a negative outcome that they may never have? How would it be helpful to share your personal bad experiences rather than sharing a bit of advanced knowledge about how to deal with and/or where to turn should any problems or situations arise for the patient?

I am not saying that we should not seek to help and provide information that we have about what a patient might want to consider in making personal decisions. For example, you may find yourself in a position where you want to share with a patient the idea of getting a second opinion about a treatment course recommended to them. But, if you receive any pushback from them, it really is necessary to check yourself and recognize that while you may not agree with them, you may do them a great disservice if you push your opinion upon them. If a patient is happy with the oncologist that is advising them and has faith and trust in that professional, most likely that patient will have a better overall outcome than if they are pushed into a situation where they are uncomfortable.

You may have great information about a new development in a course of treatment that you believe a person should discuss with their doctor or you might know about a wonderful support program for patients to deal with a cancer diagnosis. But, if the patient is not comfortable dealing with medical matters or does not want to share her feelings with a number of people that she doesn’t know, to insist that she do otherwise will have a very negative on the treatment process. Therefore, I would like to suggest that if we want to best use our own experiences to help someone else dealing with cancer that we listen to them and what they are saying and how they are saying it.

Providing a patient with some tools and information that you may have regarding a way of dealing with their doctor’s appointments should only be done after asking them whether these are things that they would like. From that point, you might want to follow up about the usefulness of those tools for them and if there is anything else that they might want from you. But, if they do not want that type of help and/or information, it should not be forced upon them under any circumstances. If the patient is allowed to make the choices that are most comfortable to them, they will feel empowered with regard to their treatment and there is nothing that will help them more in their recovery than to feel like they are in control.