So now you've
identified the person with whom you stand the best chance of having supportive
conversation -- what next?
Well, first of all simply because you have cancer doesn't mean you're not
allowed to talk about anything else! Most people find it quite normal to talk
about the minor aspects of everyday life as well as the major issues confronting
them -- so don't feel limited. Talk about the day-to-day things if you want to,
and when you want to.
But when it comes to talking about your current situation, here are a few
hints that may make the conversation easier:
- If possible, try to decide which things are most important to you, and
are the things that you really want to talk about. Quite often you'll find
that it's only two or three things that you really want to discuss -- and
- In order to introduce the topics that matter to you, it's quite helpful
if you can give a headline first. It may be something such as `Look, I want
to say a couple of things that are on my mind. Is that OK with you?' The
advantage of doing this is that it alerts your listener to the fact that
what follows is something that really matters to you.
- As you talk about the things that concern you -- or worry you -- try to
be specific. You may find it easier to take that in stages. You can start
off talking about awkward subjects with generalities (such as phrases we all
use, `Can we talk about the way things are at the moment' or something like
that) and then it's easier to move to more specific areas (`Look, I'm just
not sure how long I'm going to be in hospital this time'). If there is
something you've been thinking about or worrying about a lot, it's perfectly
OK to say so. `For the last few days, I've really been wondering about...'
etc. That way you'll ease your way into important topics and your listener
will be drawn into focusing on what it is you want or need.
- As the conversation continues, when you're doing the talking it's a good
idea to break up your own speech to see if the other person is following
you. You can use any little phrase you like to do that: `Do you see what I
mean?' or `Does that make sense to you?' or the more universal `Are you with
- Towards the end of the conversation try to make sure that what you've
said has been heard. If you have asked for some things to be done, for
example, it's worth summarizing (`So you'll ring your mother about next
weekend, and also ask Dorothy to collect the children on Friday'). And after
you've covered the main topics, don't feel embarrassed to go back to small
talk (`Let's talk about some little things -- I like talking about small
things -- ordinary things'). As someone once said, `Small talk is the mortar
of human communication' and it's true: the heavy bricks of important issues
would just collapse without normal human nattering in between!
- A lot of people ask whether humour is a good thing to use when
talking about tense issues and subjects. The simple answer is this: if
humour was useful to you before you were ill, it will be useful to you now.
Humour is primarily a coping strategy -- it helps the user to draw a frame
around something that is threatening, and by laughing at it to reduce its
importance and the size of the threat. If humour has been part of the way
you have coped with threatening crises in the past, it will help you now,
and you needn't be afraid of its effects. If on the other hand you have not
used humour as part of your armour in the past, this may not be a good time
to start doing so.
So these are some of the guidelines that will help
you keep a conversation relatively comfortable -- now let's talk about how you
bring your own feelings into it.