Patient Tips: Communication and the Art of Keeping in Touch

When dealing with cancer, all of your friends, loved ones, family members and colleagues will want information on how you’re doing. Here are some helpful ways you can achieve this goal without overburdening yourself. Remember, these tips are for everyone involved – the person with cancer, caregivers, even acquaintances.

  • Create a phone tree. Let others do the talking on your behalf. Put your phone list together and then send it off to your family and friends. The schedule of frequency – up to you!
  • Create a care page, a web page, a myspace or facebook page. You can update daily or weekly; you set the schedule. You can always delegate this assignment to another.
  • Send e-mail blasts to your contacts. Don’t exhaust yourself telling the same story over and over again – unless it provides you with relief and reduces your anxiety.

Everyone says “Keep us informed,” but who should you keep updated with news? And with what news?

  • Inform only the people who you want to and ones who offer support.
  • Avoid calls and communication with people who bring you down or who ask you question after question after question.
  • Use caller ID – it was invented for times like this!
  • It’s also important to share only the information that you want. Hold off on sharing what you don’t yet know for sure with too many people. This will require twice as much of your time.
    Do let your family, friends and work colleagues know your availability. You will be reachable by phone during certain hours, by e-mail during other hours and not wanting contact between certain dates and times.
  • Inform people when and where you will be. Checking into the hospital at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Back at work Thursday. Taking my sister to radiation every day at 3 p.m.

How detailed should I get with the medical information I share?

  • You can’t expect everyone you communicate with to become an expert in oncology.
  • Different people will want various degrees of detail. Know your audience.
  • Be prepared to define a lot of terms and procedures you or your loved one is undergoing.
  • Be comfortable with saying, “Good question, but I do not know the answer.”

What to do with the well-meaning but unnecessary advice and communication?

  • Clearly state that certain information, advice and communication is not helpful or wanted.
  • Be polite but firm.

Say What You Mean

  • It is perfectly okay to say that you are scared, angry, depressed, annoyed, not in the mood…anything that you need to express is important to communicate.
  • Sometimes you’ll find that joking, sarcasm, or raising your voice are necessary tools for effective communication. Use what works!
  • You can disagree and argue with someone who has cancer. This will not kill them; in fact, it might remind them that they are alive.
  • With cancer and life in general, sometimes the best communication is what is left unsaid. Not everything has to be mentioned.

Other forms of communication

  • Talking not your strong suit? Write a note or send a card (e-mail or snail mail).
  • Hug…(ask first)
  • Touch, massage, foot rubs are priceless.
  • Being still but present – staying in the moment with someone.
  • Get into bed with someone, under the covers, hold someone close…


  • Keep a journal or a blog. Look back to see where you were and how far you’ve come.
  • Use this as your historical reference or a place to purge your emotions.
  • Use a journal to remind yourself of how strong you are and how well you’ve done.


By Ellen R. Silver
Ellen R. Silver is a nurse practitioner, health care administrator, advocate and mother to a long-term cancer survivor diagnosed with a rare and highly metastatic sarcoma at age 15. Ellen employs all of these experiences and skill sets as Executive Director of The Wellness Community-West Los Angeles and President, Board of Directors, Sarcoma Alliance
 Source: Stand Up To Cancer