Cancer stories

We’ve all heard them. We’ve all told them. Either our own or someone else’s. If you are the person telling the story, you likely are trying to encourage hope and fight in the cancer sufferer. If you are the person listening to the story, you likely want to desperately believe that the miracle or cure story is going to be your story.While the success story of another is momentarily comforting, it doesn’t last.

Truth is, you don’t know your own story, whether you have cancer or not. You don’t know if you will live to be 100 or die tomorrow. Most of the time we don’t think about our mortality. Life is too busy to contemplate morbid thoughts.

Cancer in you or your loved one changes that. You wonder what your story is. You hope it is not like one person’s story and you try to hope that it is like the success stories you hear. But, you just don’t know.

Along with the stories come treatment recommendations and advice. These can be helpful, confusing, contradictory, or downright hurtful. It is true that your doctor matters. It is true that some traditional treatments are very effective and also very damaging. It is true that some have benefited from alternative or complementary treatments. It is also true that people die from both. What is also true is that the plethora of advice adds to the confusion.

Here might be some better things we can do and say:

1. What would you like me to pray for?

2. What is your next treatment decision and who are you talking to?

3. Can I ______ (something specific)?

And if you know the person well, you might ask:

1. What “stories” are you meditating on that you need to stop?

2. What is the one thing that is true for you right now? Or, what manna is God giving you for today?

3. What information would be helpful for your next decision?

4. Let’s talk about something other than cancer…how’s your garden coming?

5. What stories would you like to hear right now?

For counselors out there. It is a good reminder to limit the number of stories we tell our clients. These can encourage. Yes, it is true, people do get over depressions or anxiety attacks. They do repair broken marriages. These stories may encourage the person to take a step of faith. Or, they may cause them to stop, because those stories aren’t theirs.


Filed under counseling, stories

3 responses to “Cancer stories

  1. Jess

    Thanks for the reminder, Phil, and the helpful comments about how to be a loving friend.

  2. Kerry Donovan

    Hi Phil,

    I hear a very “narrative” approach here and not only do I like the approach I believe it is very helpful, therapeutic and dignifying.

    Our mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and passed away three months later. The narrative stance is a helpful counterbalance to the sometimes cold and clinical “stories” that the medical model at times fosters.


  3. Pam

    I learned from my husband’s time leading a grief group that it is important to “ask”….many times the tendency is to avoid the subject because a person don’t know what to say. This post gives some good caring questions to use.

    I cringe when I witness someone asking “how are you?” and practically before the answer is given, launching into stories of other people who have also suffered and what they did and what they thought. For that moment in time, just listen.

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