Wednesday 3 August 2011

Lines of Communication

An interesting little story caught my eye on one of the science web sites this week. It‘s a report of a recent study that found that ‘managing communication around cancer diagnosis gives patients sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation’. The researchers found that:

...communication is an important factor in coping with cancer in that it enables people to exert control during a highly stressful and turbulent time. However, despite best efforts to structure and control that communication, cancer patients cannot always predict or control other people's reaction.

In our experience the need to communicate with friends and family simply became exhausting. Particularly when you’ve just had bad news, the need to relay it multiple times just makes you feel worse. The constant repetition of bad news is depressing, especially when you know that the person on the other end is going to react badly to it too. It means that not only do you have to deal with your own reactions, but you end up having to manage other people’s too. It increases the stress precisely when you’re most stressed out.

Of course the person on the other end of the line isn’t deliberately adding to the pressure. They are concerned and mostly want to help in some way, possibly by giving you a shoulder to cry on. What they often don’t realise is that they are not the only people calling, and that sometimes you need the space to think and absorb news (good or bad). Receiving a concerned phone call as soon as you’ve had a difficult meeting with your oncologist or other doctor is especially exhausting. When you’re uncertain how to feel after receiving scan results, or a new disease staging or diagnosis, having to relay the news is simply hard to do.

In the end we solved the problem to a certain extent by nominating one or two people and communicating through them. That way we could impose some control over the situation. It meant that we could have time and space to absorb news, to think about things, to focus our energies where we needed them focused. When we had something to report we could just relay it once or twice and then let the news filter out to the wider community of friends and family without us being directly involved. This worked for us, and it meant that we felt more in control, and more importantly George felt he had some control in a situation in which powerlessness was all too real.

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