Does Your Cancer Experience Affect Your Ability to Convey Bad News?

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • A recent situation in our family left me wondering about my ability to deliver bad news, and whether having gone through the cancer experience gives you special gifts in that department.
    A little background: My older daughter, who’s headed to college in a few weeks, got a late opportunity to attend another college, which she prefers. That meant that during our family vacation in Greece, one of her parents had to call the original college and tell them of the late switch. We had already established a few personal relationships at the highest levels of College Number One and the situation was uncomfortable and a bit embarrassing.
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    My husband, who has handled far more difficult situations in his life, including managing my medical treatments during my illness, just couldn’t bring himself to make those calls. I wasn’t looking forward to making them either, but it didn’t seem that onerous to me. In fact, my perspective on the situation was entirely different than his: the timing was bad, but now another student who wanted to go to College Number One would have the chance. It is a little inconvenient to switch gears a month before the term began, but it was still good news, just as my daughter’s late admittance to College Number Two was good news.

    In fact, as I pondered the differences in our reactions I was left with this: My category of giving bad news is quite narrow and specific. Telling someone they have cancer, or a life-threatening disease. Telling someone that a person they know and love is dying or dead. Those are situations that are dreadful and hard to deal with. ( I also would never want to be in a position to fire anyone--although I fired two unsuitable live-in babysitters when my kids were young without too much angst.) Anything short of that is not really delivering bad news. So why make such a big deal out of it?

    Does living through cancer enable you to put other more minor problems in perspective afterwards? Or do people’s personalities cause them to handle life a certain way, no matter what you have gone through in the past? Even before cancer, I think I would have been able to handle those uncomfortable calls better than my husband. I wonder what others have experienced in this regard.

    Did your experience with cancer affect your ability to convey bad news? Discuss it on our message board.
Published On: August 09, 2006