CONVERSATION: A Psychologist’s Guide To Meaningful Conversation During Cancer Treatments

Meaningful Conversation Bonderies During Cancer TreatmentsAs cancer survivors we all have something in common, but are we having meaningful conversations with each other, family, or friends about it? In my experience once treatment is finished the rest of the world declares us healed and cancer is no longer spoken about. It is also my experience that the thought of cancer is never far from my mind. I am inviting you to take a look inside and ask yourself, “What will it take to have a meaningful conversation about it, now?” (Regardless of whether you are 20 years out or two days into treatment)

Ah, but that brings up anxiety doesn’t it? What might I learn about you if we share in conversation? What is it that you don’t want me know your cancer and about you and you will go to any extreme not to share with me? What is it that you won’t ask me because you think I might be offended or have a less than positive reaction to? What would make our connection through the very limited English language be a meaningful conversation?

For me a meaningful conversation is about hearing and being heard. I want to tell you about my most difficult time this week and I want to hear about yours. I want to speak to you from my heart about my dreams and not be afraid that you will laugh at them. I want to share in your dreams and support you in them. Today, I want to know that you are safe enough to share with regardless of what I have to say. I want to be re-assured that even if you don’t agree that you will not go away. I want to know that there is room for us to disagree and stick together no matter what.

There are some things that are very important to me regardless of our differences.
For instance:

  • I cannot have a meaningful conversation with someone who does not respect me. I just don’t feel equal when I am disrespected. Thus, why would I bother to have a meaningful conversation? Respect creates respect. Disrespect creates disrespect.
  • I cannot have a meaningful conversation with someone who insists on being right. Conversations are an exchange of communication thus being right or wrong is not an exchange, someone wins or someone loses. If I want to win or lose I will go play a sport or to the casino. Otherwise there is no room for winning or losing.
  • I cannot have a meaningful conversation with someone who has an agenda. If you are invested in the outcome on how you want me to be at the end of the conversation, I have no interest in being controlled by your agenda. If you want to share your point of view then I am very open to hearing it and engaging in it.

What are your boundaries about a meaningful conversation? You might have more meaningful conversations if you become aware of your boundaries and stick to them. This can be scary so I invite you to start with a meaningful conversation in your journal and then find a safe person to read your journal entry to. It is one step at a time that we build a meaningful conversation. Start today and take one step at a time. First, choose the safest person to have a conversation.

One last thought; who would be the scariest person to have a conversation with? Maybe this is an excellent time to have a conversation with him or her in your journal that is just your private space to say whatever it is you need to say.

There are many ways to have meaningful conversations, but each one requires a certain level of risk. You get to decide how much risk you are willing to take.


Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

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  1. As a cancer survivor and cancer advocate, I find this little treasure trove of ideas just perfect for newly diagnosed cancer patients.


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