Listening Ears and the Importance of Being Heard

Developing the skill of listening takes practice and for those with cancer, it's important to be heard. In this post, learn how one survivor helped others learn how to listen.
PUBLISHED July 04, 2019
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.

My granddaughter is five. She's about to start kindergarten. Sometimes, when she gets busy at play, she doesn't pay attention to her name being called. Over and over again I'll repeat her name, getting a bit little louder each time. Eventually, when my voice reaches a certain pitch, she'll stop what she's doing and turn my way. I tell her it's important to put on her listening ears.

“Listening ears” was a concept I implemented many years ago when I was a preschool teacher. Working with children between the ages of three and five was challenging. The position I held was not that of a "glorified babysitter," as some might be inclined to think. We actually taught age appropriate concepts to the children. We wanted them to learn.

One day, when I was particularly frustrated and the children weren't listening, I gathered them into a circle and had them sit on the floor. All eyes were on me as I reached up and pretended to unscrew first one ear and then my other. They started to laugh. As I mimed that I couldn't hear them, they became very still and quiet. I then reversed the process and began to "reattach" my ears. As I did, I allowed my eyes to grow large and told them in a very quiet voice, "I think I can hear you now." That little act prompted the implementation of a useful phrase in my class. Whenever the children were not paying attention, I'd speak loudly and say, "Let's put on our listening ears now." All the children would copy me as we tightly screwed on our listening ears. After I had their full attention, I was able to teach.

That concept might seem ridiculous to a room full of adults but there's a thing or two we can learn from little ones.

As a person with cancer, one of the most important things is knowing I've been heard. This is particularly important when I've been asked about how I'm feeling. Many times, a friend or acquaintance will approach me asking about my health. Before I open my mouth to speak, I can tell whether the person is truly interested in the answer or if they're just asking to be polite. One of the key factors in knowing involves body language. If the person looks off in the distance or turns slightly away, I know it's best not to go into detail about my health. On the other hand, if a person leans in and looks me right in the eyes, I know the person is attentive. Those are the people who have their "listening ears" on.

The art of listening is important. People feel validated when they are heard. One might not necessarily think the skill of listening has to be taught, but in some cases it does.

Many patients with cancer are familiar with the multitude of questions that come from family and friends immediately after diagnosis. Questions like “What stage are you?” or “What type of cancer do you have?” are common. Next come questions about treatment options and prognosis.

With each stage of cancer, questions from concerned individuals increase, but sometimes, after months of care, the questions dwindle and the listening ears get turned off.

Breast cancer has become familiar to many. It seems more and more people have learned about the various types and stages of cancer due to the popularity of the disease and the tremendous amount of information available on the internet. With many men and women being diagnosed on a daily basis, it's kind of become old hat. True listeners are hard to find.

Each person with cancer has a story to tell and we really do want our stories to be heard.

It's understandable for the listening ears to be turned off when those with cancer continually complain about physical issues. In those cases, some may even feel a person is like a broken record repeating the same things over and over again. But try and put yourself in the person with cancer's shoes. Most of us don't like to complain – in fact, we often suffer in silence. And, we don't always want to talk about our health. There are so many other aspects of our lives we'd like to share and many of those have nothing to do with cancer.

Soon summer will come to a close and the new school year will begin. As children head back to school, parents and teachers may need to remind them to listen as they learn. Maybe it's a good idea to remind ourselves to screw on our listening ears so we can really hear what's being said. That way, when our paths cross someone with cancer, we can be attentive and empathetic. And, we may just learn a thing or two we weren't expecting to learn.

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