We all know communication is important – telling people your thoughts and feelings is the only way they can really know your perspective, but that is easier said than done. When you are supporting someone with cancer, you may feel that you have to be the strong one. The person with the diagnosis is the most important person; their feelings, worries, desires are going to come first and mostly you will want to enable them and do whatever you can. Sometimes, when you’re so focused on someone else, the communication between you is damaged.
Communication is integral to any relationship, and when you can’t communicate clearly people can feel unhappy, unloved, scared or rejected. Sometimes it’s not even about big things, maybe they want you to stop fussing and bringing endless cups of tea they don’t want, but for you making them tea is your way of looking after them. If they don’t drink the tea, or tell you they don’t want it, you may end up feeling rejected because for you, it’s not about the bloody tea. You feel that your love and support are being refused. If communication is open and honest, then you may find it easier to know how to show your affection, as cancer may change the ways you can do this.
Wanting to support someone doesn’t mean it’s easy to hear their worries and you may not always feel able to be the support they need. Perhaps they’re worried they’ll die, you probably worry about that too so hearing them talk about it will be difficult. But, just because something is difficult that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying and actually having that conversation. It may end up bringing a lot of comfort to you both. If you are struggling to communicate then both of you can end up feeling lonelier and more isolated, which is the last thing you want when going through a hard time.
Knowing that communicating your wants and needs clearly is important and actually being able to do so are not the same thing, so here are some suggests for keeping the lines of communication open.
1) Don’t shut a conversation down
If someone says something to you that’s hard to hear, you have to listen. If your loved one mentions their death, do not dismiss it and say something along the lines of “no, you can fight this”. Talking about it will not make it happen. And NOT talking about it won’t stop it, but it may make it harder if it does. You don’t have to have a formal conversation, and if at the moment your loved one mentions it you’re shopping for tinned tomatoes and just can’t bear it at that moment then tell them, but promise to talk about it soon. Just something like “I know you need to talk about this, but right now we can’t give it the attention we want, so can we wait until we are home/in the car etc”. Then BRING IT UP. Don’t wait for them to try again, they may not.
2) Know they worry about you too
It can be easy to dismiss your own feelings and focus completely on the person with the diagnosis, but in any relationship you both have to communicate. It’s important that you don’t dismiss your own feelings. They will know you’re scared, worried and sad (and probably a million other emotions every day) so it’s worth expressing these. It’s not top trumps. You’re allowed good days and bad days; you just need to let people know if you’re having a bad day and how you’re feeling.
3) Find what works for you
Some people need to plan to have serious conversations, some would rather they are more spontaneous. You need to know how the other person likes to communicate and what the works for them, and to do this, you also need to know what works for you. Sitting down and discussing something might feel a bit too much, so maybe chatting while you do something else will work better. A lot of people say they find it easier to have serious conversations in the car, when you’re side by side and don’t have to sit facing each other.
Communication is essential in any relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s always straight forwards, especially when things are difficult. Keep talking, keep trying.