by Lynne Eldridge MD, reprinted from About.com
People can make insensitive comments to anyone suffering from an illness, but the stigma of lung cancer opens an extra door of vulnerability for those going through lung cancer treatment. “I didn’t know you were a closet smoker.” “My cousin Bill had lung cancer and he died.” Most of the time, people make these comments innocently without thinking; they don’t know what to say, are voicing their own fears about developing lung cancer, or are simply ignorant about the disease. Once in awhile, we encounter people that truly lack empathy or are downright rude.
Going through cancer treatment is a challenge enough, without adding the stress and hurt feelings that can come as a result insensitive comments. What can you do to minimize the impact of these remarks as you go through lung cancer treatment?
Surround Yourself With Supportive People
Surrounding yourself with loving, non-judgmental people is the first step in handling insensitive comments. People that know your situation well, can empathize, and provide unconditional support, help you focus on your treatment. Those who are less familiar with your illness or your methods of coping are less likely to respond in a way that nourishes your spirit.
Have a Spokesperson That Can Speak For You
Lung cancer treatment can be tiring, and the last thing on your list might be trying to figure out how to deal with insensitive comments. Talk openly with your loved ones ahead of time, anticipating less than supportive remarks that may come your way. Your loved ones can then shelter you by responding in a fashion that answers those comments, without starting a series of questions in your own mind. “There are many causes of lung cancer.” "I am sorry your cousin died from lung cancer but we are very optimistic that the treatment Jim has chosen will be effective, and could really use your prayers and support.”
Believing in, and loving yourself can head off many comments before they ever occur. When others see you fighting your cancer they are more likely to encourage you in your treatment. If they see you blaming yourself, they are more likely to join the cause and add to the blame. Nourish your own self-respect. If you don’t appear to be questioning what you could have done to prevent your cancer, or what will happen tomorrow, others might be less likely to make a comment…maybe.
Don’t Become Defensive
Fighting your lung cancer requires your energy now. Don’t allow hurtful comments from others to drag you down and put you in a defensive mode. Some comments may be deserving of an honest response, and possibly even a response that the remark was hurtful, but don’t set yourself up for a debate on what you might have done differently in the past. We can’t change the past, but we can focus on present treatment.
If the Comment Lingers in Your Thoughts, Try Relaxation
Some people find self-affirmation helpful as a method to build them up and get past the pain of insensitive comments. Relaxation techniques can return your focus to what is important –- maximizing the results of your treatment. A simple method of relaxation that can be done anywhere is visualization.
Educate the Ignorant
Sometimes it is best to ignore inappropriate comments, or have someone else speak for you. If you feel up to it, the best way to raise awareness and educate the public about lung cancer, is through the words of those who have been living with the disease. Let these individuals know that there are many causes of lung cancer, and that unconditional support is what you really need to fight your disease.
Maintain a Sense of Humor
When you are irritated when someone asks you once again how long you smoked (if you ever did), picture asking him or her a similar question were they diagnosed with cancer. “How long have you been…” Fill in the blank: obese, sedentary, addicted to tanning, obnoxious.
Have a Few Snappy Comebacks
My mother always taught me that 2 wrongs don’t make a right, but in the case of a stinging comment or particularly nasty remark, venting your frustration on the source might be just what the doctor ordered. Having a few snappy comebacks may help you dismiss some of these remarks before they penetrate your thoughts and leave you fuming silently. In response to a comment about smoking to a lung cancer patient, our About.com guide to surgery actually heard someone say “Why thank you, I didn’t know smoking could cause cancer, thank you for telling me, now I know I deserve cancer!”
Many of those insensitive comments that fester in your mind, have already left the mind of the deliverer. Don’t dwell on them. Address the remark, ignore it, or whatever, but let it go and forgive the one that was insensitive. Unresolved resentment won’t change the one that shared the comment, it will only poison you.
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