An interesting press release from the University of Texas supports my long-standing contention that it is better to ask a patient, "How are things?" than to ask "How are you?"
Dr. Erin Donovan-Kicken, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin, headed a team that explored how and why people with cancer communicate with their family, friends and coworkers.
The report published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research features her conclusion that asserting control over how to communicate—or not communicate—about their illness helps cancer patients overcome feelings of helplessness.
One conclusion was that patients benefit from asking for "the space to feel ill or fall apart in private, to focus on themselves without needing to support others and to avoid people who were sad or overly solicitous."
In real life, of course, communications are dynamic and complex. Patients have different needs at different times, as do friends, family and coworkers. And patients cannot control others' reactions. Consequently, patients can only affect -- not control -- communications about their illness.
Sometimes patients can't figure out if it's okay to act in a way that is appropriate only for someone who is seriously ill or if, despite illness, they should continue to follow usual social mores of behavior.
As a Healthy Survivor, find ways to help family, friends and coworkers know what helps and what hurts. If communications are going poorly, forgive, forget, force change or do whatever helps you get good care and live fully.