The Art of Having a Sane or Real Conversation with Someone Diagnosed with Cancer
Perhaps of all the health conditions a person could be diagnosed with, the one that seems to invoke the greatest amount of fear and terror is the diagnosis of cancer. When I get a call from someone diagnosed with this condition or from a relative calling me on behalf of someone in their family with cancer, I can often feel the extent to which they are gripped by the fear of death.
When I first started working with people with cancer in my health practice, I would pick up on this fear and was very much attached to wanting to save everyone who came my way with this condition. I tended to take it very personally if I couldn’t help them or they died.
Fortunately for me, I eventually came to another realization which was — if someone is truly ready to go, what’s wrong with them dying from cancer? After all, we all have to have something that takes us out of here at some point when we are ready to go. For some people it’s cancer, and for others, it’s something like a heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson Disease, an accident, etc. Death is something that’s a normal and inevitable part of life that comes for some at a young age and others at a later age.
For me, I found I just can’t have a “real” or “sane” conversation with someone who has been diagnosed with cancer until we’ve considered that it’s just as valid a viewpoint if they want to die as it is if they want to live and there is nothing wrong with either choice.
When I was very attached to the idea that all people with cancer must be saved, I found that so many people I worked with were reluctant to fully open up and share more about what was going on in their lives beyond just telling me about the physical symptoms they were experiencing. A few clients told me the reason they hadn’t shared more about what was going on for them was that they thought I just wouldn’t hear or understand what they were going through and that I would judge and not honor whatever choice they were considering if it included dying as one of the options.
Letting go of my attachment to wanting to save others was a very challenging and humbling process for me and had me examining many of my motives for wanting to work with cancer clients in the first place. What I discovered is that a part of me had gotten into the line of work out of a desire to be the hero who saves others from the scourge of cancer and it would allow me to become well-known and famous if I excelled in my practice.
However, what I hadn’t realized until I had been working with many cancer cases for several years, was that many people diagnosed with the condition don’t want to be saved and it is often the family who has a much stronger desire for them to live longer than they do themselves. Furthermore, in the case where someone is ready and wanting to die, is cancer really the evil villain that our society makes it out to be or could it also be perceived as one of the many potential ways for someone to make their exit from this life?
This new awareness helped me redefine my role with clients. Perhaps the real reason I was working with them had more to do with learning to listen to the fully, love them unconditionally and get behind whatever direction they wanted to go with things — including if they just wanted to die. And in cases like that, maybe I was there to help them and their family make peace with that choice or to help make them more comfortable.
As soon as someone I was working with who had cancer realized that I wasn’t attached to whether they wanted to live longer or not and that I would be supportive of whatever choice they wanted to make, they would frequently open right up and get “real” about what was going on in their lives. They started telling me about all the stresses, frustrations, anger, fear, challenges, etc. in all areas of life that they had no clue how to work through. I often had people reveal things to me they’d never shared with anyone else their entire life.
If someone wanted to work through the challenges they were facing and were specifically asking me for help with this, I was now in a much better position than I had been before (when I had been attached to saving them), to see what deeper issues needed to be addressed and thus was able to provide a much better level of support.
One of the things I commonly share with people I work with is regardless of where someone is at, there always is a whole other way to look at life which can give tremendous freedom from the suffering and pain. I don’t think there are any mistakes as to why someone has the parents, relationships, circumstances, and specific challenges they do. If you take a closer look, you might notice that life tends to keep on throwing us the same challenges again and again until we learn some hidden lesson. . . it seems that once we learn the lesson, we don’t have to go through that same challenge anymore, and life can shift in beautiful ways and often faster than we could ever imagine. On a few occasions, I have even seen cancer and other very serious health conditions completely disappear in a matter of weeks. However, this was dependent on if someone was completely willing to make all the necessary changes in life.
Many people I worked with (as well as others I’ve met) told me that what they did to recover from cancer turned out to be one of their greatest gifts in life and they had no regrets going through that experience. For others, a cancer diagnosis may signal the time to go and maybe for them it’s about making peace with that. Regardless of what someone wants to do, having an unconditionally loving and supportive listener can often make all the difference in the world to forward motion in either direction.
Jonathan Ley is an life coach, herbalist, and detoxification practitioner dedicated to bringing active listening and unconditional love into the health practitioner/client dynamic and working with people to help them develop more conscious awareness around their health to experience optimal performance and vitality www.painfreehappylife.com