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Staying Patient Throughout Someone's Cancer Journey

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Article

Patience is key when supporting a patient with cancer.

image of Mary Sansone

I was blessed to have good listeners during my cancer journeys. We patients also need to be good at “listening back.”

Being a good listener and responder is an honor, a gift and an art. For me, there was a gentle give and take with my family and friends.As a volunteer at Moffitt Cancer center, I have witnessed empathy, panic, conflicts and peace. In all cases, everyone ‘s reaction or advice came from a place of love.

I consider some conversations during my cancer journey as scared moments.There were other unbalanced conversations that were disconcerting. No matter, I will always have immense empathy for loved ones trying to listen and say the right thing.

Providing solace to someone who is told that a mass was found, or to someone who is waiting for the results of a biopsy can be tricky.There is a fine line between dismissing the likelihood of an illness and sharing the fear of a diagnosis. “I’m sure it’s nothing” can be as disquieting as “better get that checked out now!” We don’t want our symptoms discounted, nor do we want to go to an ominous place.

Back in 2016, after suffering some weird symptoms, I landed in the ER. The doctor saw that my white blood cell count was off the charts. An infectious disease physician was summoned to run some tests. I was also admitted to the hospital to get a bone marrow biopsy the next day “to rule out cancer.”

I called my family from the hospital to explain everything. Everyone took the news seriously without adding to my fear. I did hear “I’m sure it’s just a bug.” However, I knew that this was delivered to settle anxieties on both sides. The best reaction was “Cancer or an infection would explain all your symptoms. Let’s hope you have neither. I’m here for you no matter what!”For me, this was a validation of all my complaints and reassured me that I was not alone. (It was cancer.)

In “listening back”, we patients receive a lot of advice from those outside the medical profession. Someone suggested to me that I take 20 vitamin C pills a day. (I think that vitamin C causes diarrhea and I already had enough of that.) Others suggested omitting sugar from my diet. (The doctors told me to “eat anything” as I withered away.) Another advocated for me to start water-coloring. That did help my mental health immensely! I never scoffed at suggestions. I permitted all types of reactions and pieces of advice. It was my decision to consult with medical professionals and ultimately make my own decisions.

My family and I maturely discussed grim topics like my Advance Directives, Living Will, Power of Attorney and so forth. (Tip: Ask for a social worker – they will provide documents and guide everyone through the processes.) Throughout everything my family members were empathic and gentle. I also did my best to make it smooth and easy on them.

I was the lucky one in that I had a social worker to express anything on my mind without scaring loved ones or wounding anyone’s feelings. (There are support groups for caregivers as well.) God bless those social workers! I would vent and vent and they never appeared frustrated. They didn’t just ask, “how are you feeling” but would inquire “how are you FEELING?” What a blessing!

There is a “Modern Family” episode that I love. Phil goes to a salon where he learns that the best thing to do when Claire shares a frustration is to not “correct” her or tell her what to do, but to just listen and be on her side. He does this at the end of the show. At that moment, I say to myself – “every partner should watch this episode!”

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