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13 Things To Remember If You Love Someone With Cancer

13 Things To Remember If You Love Someone With Cancer

When someone you love is faced with something as unfamiliar and unpredictable as a cancer diagnosis, everything around you might seem like it’s falling apart. What do you do? What do you say? How do you support them through this? How do you support yourself?

Here are a few things to remember as you work through this situation with someone you love.

1. It’s time to forget everything you think you know about fighting cancer

No two cancer experiences are alike. While one person’s story may be enough to get you through today, your loved one probably won’t feel the same. You can read all the books and articles out there, but in reality, cancer has a way of behaving unpredictably, either for better or worse.

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2. People with cancer want to talk about things other than cancer

There will be times your loved one wants to talk about what they’re going through, but don’t be surprised if those times seem few. Those battling cancer don’t want to bring up cancer in every single conversation they have with you. Often, they’ll just want to talk about the same things the two of you always talk about: their favorite sports team or the latest book they read. Just go with it. Save “cancer talk” for their next doctor’s appointment, unless they bring it up first.

3. Sometimes all you need to do is listen

Someone faced with a cancer diagnosis more than likely understands that you don’t understand what they’re going through. They don’t expect you to. They also don’t expect you to give them unsolicited advice or to constantly shower them with positive messages. Sometimes all they need is for someone to listen to them. Being that person for them is more helpful and meaningful than you might realize.

4. Someone with cancer needs encouragement, not advice

If your loved one has a doctor they really trust, they will lean on him or her for advice about their circumstances. They probably don’t expect that kind of support from you, too. While their relationship with their doctor may be all business, they might want their relationship with you to be the exact opposite. A simple, “I’ll be right here, we’re going to get through this” before an appointment might be just what they need from you.

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5. A small act of kindness goes a long way

Something as small as picking up a newspaper or making a quick Target run on your way to visit them at home can mean much more to them than it might to you. It’s the little things that really make a difference.

6. Be observant

Your loved one might not always feel comfortable or able to tell you what they need. Pay close attention to their words and body language. Someone who is used to being independent can feel very overwhelmed when they start to realize they need to depend on others for basic necessities. It helps to ask them what they need or to ask them specifically, “Can I take care of that for you?”

7. Be patient

Keep in mind that you are not the only one faced with this reality. Your loved one doesn’t know how to handle it most of the time either. They will probably get frustrated, and so will you. Be patient. If you need to take a few deep breaths, go ahead. Caring for someone with cancer is a journey filled with twists and dead ends. It doesn’t get easier, but you might be able to settle into a rhythm to make things more bearable.

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8. Be positive

Fill their environment with positivity as often as you can. This doesn’t mean you have to shower them with cards or avoid talking about the negative things going on in your life. Encourage them, especially when they’re having a rough day, the same way you would want someone to encourage you. Let them know you are there for them, no matter what.

9. Give them space when they need it

Try not to take it personally if your loved one seems to be pushing you away. That’s not their intention at all. Everyone grieves in their own way, and sometimes your loved one might just need some alone time. Respect that need. Let them know you can be there if they need you, but don’t be there if they’re trying to communicate they need to be alone.

10. Don’t claim you understand what they’re going through

Odds are, you don’t. Everyone’s experience with cancer is different, the same way every type of cancer varies in the way it affects the body. You may have dealt with similar traumatizing experiences before or you might have even battled cancer yourself, but now is not the time to bring up your experiences to show your loved one you “get it.”

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11. Be respectful and supportive of their decisions, even if you don’t agree

Ultimately, treatment decisions are still completely up to them. If they make decisions without consulting you first, or you don’t agree with the decision they have made, now is not the time to speak up. Those battling cancer are losing control of many parts of their life, they may have once taken for granted. Let them have control over their treatment. Let them have this moment.

12. You need support, too – but not from your loved one who’s suffering

When faced with a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, grieving can hit you hard. It’s not easy to take care of someone you love and deal with your feelings at the same time. You might need support, too – and that’s okay – but seeking out and expecting support from the person you’re taking care of, isn’t the best way to go. Find a friend, another family member or even a professional to help get you through it, so you have the strength to help the one who needs it most.

13. There’s still a person underneath the pain

Not even just “a person” – a person you love. Undergoing treatment and the disease itself will change them on the outside, sometimes so much so that you barely recognize them. They’re still there. They’re still the same person you have always known and loved. Look past the physical changes. You’ll see them there, and once you do, that’s something you’ll be able to hold onto forever.

Above all, remember to allow yourself time to slow down and take things moment by moment. Whatever happens, you are going to make it through this.

Featured photo credit: Hernán Piñera via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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