Lesson Learned: Choosing your words carefully

Cancer or any type of illness can create powerful emotions. People react differently to what they hear. This afternoon as I walked during lunch, I thought about people I knew who had received bad news and how different they reacted. I also thought how careful you have to be when giving the news. The following are three examples.

Last year my dad went to a kidney specialist on the recommendation from his doctor. My dad functions on less than half a kidney and has for many years. The kidney specialist, after running tests, wanted my dad to prepare for kidney dialysis so if the kidney totally failed then he’d be ready. In that visit, the doctor guessed that my dad would need dialysis in six months. If he chose not to have dialysis, my dad would die approximately two months from needing it. My dad heard six months to live. Today, over six months from that initial visit, we can’t convince my dad any different. He stuck on those doctor’s words even though he heard incorrectly and that has dampened his spirits. On the other hand, the doctor never gave him words of encouragement either. Lesson here is to listen to what the doctor has to say but do your research as well. Just because the statistics say one thing doesn’t mean that you’ll fit the mold.

For a writer friend, she learned a couple months ago that she had skin cancer on her face. When the office called to tell her the news, she only heard the word “cancer.” She had cancer. The person giving her the news went into detail on what they found and what they would have to do. My friend never heard a word beyond “cancer.” She hung up the phone as the person was talking to her. She had to let the bad news soak in. Once the initial shock was over, my friend called her doctor’s office back. She apologized and then told the person to repeat everything from their first conversation so she could hear it. The lesson this time is for the doctor’s office. The receiver needs time to absorb the words that no one wants to hear. This may be routine for you, but it’s not for the person on the other end.

Lastly, for my brother Mike, he listened when the doctor told him that he had lung cancer. However the part that he was at Stage IV with maybe six months to live wasn’t comprehendible to him. My brother was adamant that he was going to survive. Even when the cancer pressed against his spine and left him paralyzed, he wouldn’t accept that his cancer spread beyond cure. He refused to believe it even a few days before he died. Lesson here is a hard one. We were the ones who had to choose our words carefully. We had to stay positive along with him. The hospice did wonders to counsel my brother and us. We will always be grateful for their care and guidance.

The point I’m trying to make in today’s blog is to remember how powerful words can be. Those words can change someone’s life. Hopefully you don’t have to be the bringer of bad news, but if so, think of the receiver. Each one of us reacts differently, and we all have to be mindful.


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