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Compassionate Strategies for Supporting Cancer Patients

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The other way the diagnosis of cancer is hard is it is hard on your family because they're hurting for you. They do not know what to say. They do not know how to approach it. So I'm trying to say, “Hey, I want to have a real conversation about all the things that you feel about this. Are you comfortable with that?”

In 2022, roughly 1.9 million people were diagnosed with some form of cancer. That is 1.9 million people who need to be comforted, supported, and helped during their health crisis. As a cosmetic dentist, you might be at a loss for how to connect with patients when they go through this trying time. In an informative conversation with Ms. Lena Stoots, we’re talking today about connecting to patients when they are going through difficult times, specifically how to connect with others when they have been diagnosed with cancer.

Without further ado, I’m introducing my special guest for today: Lena Stoots! Lena is a supply chain whiz and a facilitator for a financial education ministry. She uses her natural organized, analytical approach to help you get prepared to talk to patients, or even friends and family, about a cancer diagnosis.

Lena: Hey! 

Edward: Hello, Lena!

Lena: Hi, how are you? 

Edward: I’m doing well, thank you for joining us today. So Lena and I met almost a year ago during the pandemic. She’s a phenomenal connector in the community, so it doesn’t matter where you are. Lena is that phenomenal person that can get you connected with the people you need. So Lena, would you go ahead and introduce yourself?

Lena: I am a connector on LinkedIn. I am very involved in LinkedIn as far as helping people navigate that, but I also work in supply chain management in my day job. Additionally, I am a facilitator for Main Street Ministries for a program called Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World. Those are my three top things that I do pretty regularly. Other than that, I’m just hitting five years as a breast cancer survivor this week. So thank you for having me here!

Edward: Wow! Five years. Well, first of all, congratulations. I know that was very difficult for you and your family. That’s a good segue into our topic at hand. 

One of the last things we want to hear is “You have cancer.” Cancer is a life-changing event. It’s something that can affect us in more ways than we could ever imagine. Lena is here to talk about the patient’s perspective and offer some guidance on how to communicate with someone that is going through a diagnosis. Despite how it might feel for the patient, the world does not end. You still have to get services, you still have to get your dental checkups,

You still have to get your wellness exams just as much as anyone would, but it has to come in a different manner. So Lena, I guess if you can help us out in terms of the conversation from a mindset perspective.

Lena: You know, it’s easier said than done, but you have to think the best not the worst. The more people you have around you that are supportive or have been through this experience, the easier it is. You need a few core people that you’ll be able to talk to about how you’re really feeling and then be able to establish how you want to feel about this.

Because the more I think and believe that I’m going to be able to move through this, the more focused I can be on being informed and listening to the doctors. I can go through the process, depending on what treatments and therapies have to happen. 

The sooner you say, “The only thing that changed from yesterday is that I’ve got a diagnosis. I still have to manage my life. I still have to decide to get up, and I still have a lot of things to do. It can sound kind of odd—nobody is ever thankful to get cancer or any disease—but I get to get up. I get to decide that I’m going to think good things about this. I get to take this day and be thankful for the friends, family, and the doctors that will be required on this journey.

I get to decide how I feel about it, and I feel pretty okay with knowing that I’m going to be well cared for. I can tell you just from the brutality of treatment, the better your mindset is, the better your body can handle it.

Edward: Wow, that’s amazing. The diagnosis of cancer certainly changes your perspective on health. You said nothing changes other than you got a diagnosis, but in terms of advertising, did you notice a change in the way you reacted to medical advertisements? Did you say, “These ads are not relevant for me,” or “These ads are insensitive,” or “I never noticed these types of communications to someone like me, and it really resonates with me”? Did you have any of those types of experiences? 

Lena: Somewhat. In terms of the generic ads on TV for treatment and therapies, a lot of times they are non-specific. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but I know that for a while, it would just make me aggravated because it always made it look as if the patients were just fine. They took whatever kind of medication, and they were on a bike the next day or jogging five miles. It is just not like that typically, so I think those ads don’t talk about all the other aspects of the truth. I mean, they give you a tiny blurb of side effects, and the regular public doesn’t see how it truly affects people.

It’s just an ad. I don’t even see the point of those ads, quite honestly! It’s supposed to be beneficial to say, “We’ve got new treatments,” but where are the real people? Those are all actors! I was not a fan after my diagnosis because I know so much more about the truth of it. To the general public, I’d say don’t believe half of the ads that you see on TV; there’s just a lot more to it that they could be more realistic about.

Edward: That’s a good point. I can imagine that those ads were probably written by a bunch of people who may or may not be close to the disease. That situation could create some content that may not be sensitive, or might be totally irrelevant. To go back to the topic of mindset, what are some of the things that prevented you from having a good mindset? Were you more tired? Was it more stress? Was a lot going on in terms of the disease?

I am thinking about this in terms of communication, because so many people don’t know how to actually approach someone that’s going through this situation. Marketing aside, how do your friends and family best communicate with you? 

Lena: Oh man, I love that question and thank you so much for it! I think one of the worst things you can ever say is “It’s going to be okay.” Don’t ever say that, because you don’t know! That’s also not what anyone wants to hear after they’ve had that diagnosis. It is not helpful. The truth is, it can be very difficult for family and friends to accept and to walk through, which means that the person with the diagnosis can have trouble finding ways to be honest about your feelings. 

When the diagnosis first comes, you feel like you don’t know which way to go. You have to figure out a lot at the beginning of diagnosis and as you go through treatment, depending what that treatment is. I had chemo and radiation. The chemo was brutal, mostly because I was just so tired. I went through the hair loss, went through all the things, but also always felt like I had to be strong and in the best mood for the people around me.

I was accommodating them but feeling not accommodated for the way I felt. In some ways, that probably kicked my butt and made me fight and deal with it better. 

The other way the diagnosis is hard is it is hard on your family because they are hurting for you. They do not know what to say. They do not know how to approach it. So I am trying to say, “Hey, I want to have a real conversation about all the things that you feel about this. Are you comfortable with that?” It has to be a two-way conversation of saying, “Are you comfortable talking about the details of what’s going on here with the diagnosis and the treatments?” because some people are not.

It gives them anxiety, and they start thinking about themselves—” What if I got this?”—and that is okay. I think we have to be sensitive to each other and say “Hey Edward, my friend, I have this diagnosis.

Can I talk to you about it? Are you in a place to be okay with me talking about this? Some of it might be a little brutal, and I really need someone to talk to. It is okay if that’s something you’re not comfortable with.” And that shouldn’t impact your friendship or your family relationships, but the more honest you are about that, the better. 

People don’t have to just support you with conversations, though. Maybe they cannot have that deep conversation. Maybe it’s more like: I need socks because my feet are cold every time I get treatment and you send me some socks. You know, there’s just so many more ways we can approach the same problem, but we have to really be okay with talking about it. As a patient, you have to find the people that are the best in levels: who can manage what, how you feel about it, and how they feel about it.

If you need to call somebody in the middle of the night and go, “I am just a mess. I can’t sleep because I’m so high on steroids, I can’t see straight,” you don’t want to call somebody in the middle of the night if that is not their gift, right? They might not know the best way to be with you and to care about you. 

Edward: That’s really good stuff, especially about the socks and making suggestions. I feel, based on our relationship and then based on the conversation, that you tend to be more independent in terms of function and action. There are some people out there that may not be as independent, and they may really need to depend on someone, be it a spouse or a BFF.

They may not be as receptive to gifts like socks. In terms of those situations, do you think that, more or less, showing empathy helps? Do you go about it directly or indirectly? What would you say, in your experience, is the best approach to talk to someone?

Lena: I think empathy is perfect. I think by saying, “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. Do you want to talk about it?” you demonstrate that you are open to this person’s thoughts and experiences. It’s just a matter of not telling someone they’re going to be okay! It’s just the worst thing you can say to someone that has been diagnosed with cancer because we deal with this for the rest of our lives. Start with, “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling” or “How are you feeling?” “Are there things that you need?”

We can go back to the socks: “Are there things that you would like to have or have heard will be helpful for you?” “Is there something that you need help with?” All the way down to helping prepare meals that they need. Many cancer patients don’t have the energy to cook dinner for themselves every night!

I was a part of a support group, and I am still involved in that group. That really made a big difference because you talk to people that are going through it with you. They are in their own spot in the journey, but those are the people that you can really have those conversations with as you’re traversing this diagnosis.

That means you can go back to your support people outside of the group having talked about this, which can bring other conversations about or give you the ability to feel comfortable asking more questions. 

Overall, that approach of kindness is great. It took a while, but between the support group, family, friends, I was able to manage and get a better outlook, a good, positive way to deal with it.

It was certainly not perfect all the time. I actually had people reach out to me when I was starting chemo, and I didn’t put it out there publicly. I did not do anything on social media. I was embarrassed that I had cancer. I did not really know how to navigate it. But there were people who, if they had just heard, would send me a message and say, “I can’t believe you’re just going to poison yourself” 

Edward: Wow.

Lena: Yeah. And I say that because I know that there are still people that say that! Like, what in the world? I think we should start by treating each other with kindness as humans. Start there and then move your way up. 

That wraps up our conversation for this week! Look out for a blog post next week where we discuss ways to reach out to patients experiencing a cancer diagnosis.

If you are interested in more of Lena’s work, you can find it here. If you’re interested in learning more about how to grow your cosmetic dental practice, we’d love to help you. We are on a mission to help 500 cosmetic dental practices double their revenue by 2026, and we want yours to be one of them. Now that you know how compassionate marketing can help you find your next patient, would you be interested in a free consultation for your dental practice


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