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.

The Ultimate Journey in Life is Going Within

The Ultimate Journey in Life is Going WithinBy: Jean Di Carlo-Wagner, Owner of Yoga Being.

The diagnosis of cancer pierces the dense illusionary promises of ‘tomorrow’. In a moment, we stand naked with ourselves, vulnerable and raw. We have immediate decisions to make. What will be my path? What will be my outcome?

Just two days ago, an acquaintance I have known through friends and through music making, was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. “Jean, I’m thinking of going to Mexico for alternative types of low-dose chemotherapy. I’m thinking that I need more time to make a decision. I am afraid the chemotherapy will kill me. And that it will kill my immune system. Will I be able to play the piano if I get neuropathy? Playing the piano is my life.”

No one has answers for anyone else. I can share my experience and what I’ve learned from other cancer patients in the twelve years since my own colorectal diagnosis. But the journey one takes is within to find their answers. Cancer is a fierce foe, and can be unrelenting in its onslaught. Pain can drive our minds to dark and fearful places. If we go within, what will we find? Beyond pain, is there stillness within?

Escape is not an option for those of us with a late diagnosis.
Time is of the essence.
What we choose can determine the length and quality of our lives.
Only we know our values and preferences.

However, they can be difficult to discern in the midst of devastating health news. Only we can decide, and if and when, we say, “Enough, I am done with cancer treatments. ”

The polar opposites of life and death seem rigidity clear. Our earthly self cries out: “I choose life!” The question sparks an internal journey: life on what terms? My mother was very happy to sit in her easy chair; the patio garden provided hours of satisfying gazing. Was she meditating? Yes, to me she was. When I asked her, “Mom, what would you spend more time doing, if you had to live your life again?” She looked up at the hummingbird feeder, then caressed the budding flowers with her eyes. “I’d spend more time with you, doing this: talking and looking out the window.”A hummingbird for Jean's Mom

It was a simple, but profound answer: a Truth. Words that I use as a compass through the rough waves of my life. I reflect on my choices. Am I doing the things that make me feel happy? Am I taking joy in simple pleasures? Am I in this moment? In my mother’s answer lies the very basic truth of being. She spent three years in her easy chair. I spent many hours beside her. Together, we journeyed along a footpath to her final days. We had a long good-bye. Ultimately, cancer claimed the final blow to her health.

She was offered chemotherapy. She refused. She chose to return home and live out her few short weeks without treatment. Her decision came from within. I believe the hours of dancing with birds and blooms gave her an inner wisdom. My mother knew the cycle of life and rebirth. Her garden flower blooms spoke of their brief joys and whispered of a new beginning. The hummingbirds heartbeats move their chests and wings. “I will come to visit you as a hummingbird and a Monarch butterfly”, she told me. And she does.

I take time to look and listen for her. When I am at my lowest, one or the other avatars appear.

Jean Di Carlo-Wagner
Owner, Yoga Being
Only Online Advanced Yoga Training
For Cancer Survivors

Jean Di Carlo WagnerAbout Jean Di Carlo Wagner: Owner of
E-RYT200, E-RYT500 certified with Yoga Alliance
Yoga Therapist with International Alliance of Yoga Therapists
Atma Yoga Teacher Training, certified 500 hours Los Angeles
A Gentle Way Yoga, certified 200 hours
Silver Age Yoga, certified 200 hours

Surviving Cancer & Depression: 4 Steps to Success (Part 2)

Surviving Cancer and Depression; 4 Steps To SuccessBy: Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos, International Bestselling Author, Breast Cancer Blogger & Cancer Hotline Counselor.

In part one of this article Depression is Deadlier than CANCER?: 7 Ways to Survive Treatment, we explored depression and cancer.

The recent suicide of actor Robin Williams has brought life and death associated with depression into our hearts and homes. It has deeply touched our lives and left us with many unanswered questions.  For those of us not suffering from depression, it was a surprise. For those of us touched by depression it was a wake-up call. For the whole world, it was a cry for help and a call to action.

Here are more facts and figures that may surprise and alarm you.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness is very common. One in five Americans aged 16-85 experience some form of mental illness in any year. Suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for all ages. According to (WHO), every year over 800,000 people die from suicide. That is an alarming statistic.

The most common mental illnesses are depressive, anxiety and substance use disorder. These three types of mental illnesses often occur in combination. For example, a person with an anxiety disorder could also develop depression, or a person with depression might misuse alcohol or other drugs, in an effort to self-medicate. A third combination would be incompatible pharmaceuticals that exacerbate mental illness during treatment for a physical illness.

One in two people or half the population in the world will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime. One in three people will come down with some form of cancer in their lifetime. More people will have mental illness than cancer.

Cancer, like depression and many other diseases that were once considered terminal, is no longer a death sentence. It may take time and a team of experts to formulate a treatment that works for all diseases that plague our minds and bodies, but that help is available.  Knowing your options is paramount to being successful in health. The internet is a great way to connect with other patients, groups and organizations and to research information and success stories.

Success is possible.

Long-term follow-up procedures during and after any health related treatments are extremely important for keeping all diseases under control or cured.

Here are 4 steps to ensure personal success over depression during health treatments.

  1. Be an active part of your treatment team.
  2. Show up.
  3. Follow through.
  4. Focus on success.

It was not that long ago that many diseases now controllable such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, diabetes, blood pressure and heart disease were considered incurable. Now, stories of treatment success far outnumber the stories of failure. Many patients live with or beyond disease.  Decide to become one of the success stories.

Since the suicide of Robin Williams, the illness of depression has been in the news and on the minds of many cancer patients. Unfortunately, cancer and depression go together like peanut and butter. The pharmaceutical cocktail of anti-depression medication and chemotherapy can become a hair-raising roller coaster ride, if you have any hair left after chemo.

As an R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation Hotline Counselor, I mentor woman newly diagnosed with cancer who seek help through the HOTLINE’s center by calling 1-800-433-0464 and I’m pleased to say that I’ve seen a rise in the number of women talking about their depression.

Yes, you read that last line correctly

Keeping depression a secret is deadly.

Talking about depression brings a dark controlling force into the light where it can be seen and conquered. Trying to overcome depression that is kept a secret is like trying to fight an enemy that is an expert at hiding. It is shooting in the dark.

Being ashamed of depression is like being ashamed of having the flue. It’s not your fault that you have it. You did not deliberately go out and try to acquire any of these diseases.

Like life, sh#t happens. Find it. Fix it!

We are also learning that certain people are genetically predisposed to certain diseases. We are often not aware of that fact until certain tests are preformed when symptoms are displayed. Once test information is shared with us our lifestyle can be adjusted accordingly and our health monitored.

Life goes on. Statistics have proved that unhealthy diets and lifestyles can exacerbate an existing illness like cancer and depression. My book, Surviving Cancerland: Intuitive Aspects of Healing addresses this in chapter 35, The Finish Line and Depression.

There is also evidence that living a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet, plenty of exercise and good sleep and work habits and can decrease the chances of acquiring certain diseases like cancer and depression, keep them under control if they do occur, or from returning once they are cured. Ways to change diet and lifestyle are discussed in my book, Surviving Cancerland: Intuitive Aspects of Healing.

We’ve come a long way, Baby. Health care is not perfect, but it is improving and we have the statistics to prove it. Focus on that during times of trouble.

Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos Breast Cancer Authority ContributorBIO: Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos believes dreams diagnose your life. Did you have a déjà- vu or did your dream come true? Kat survived three cancers diagnosed by her dreams. International bestselling author, inspirational speaker, radio-host, columnist, blogger, Cancer Hotline Counselor; she has been featured on radio and TV, in magazines and newspapers, SURVIVING CANCERLAND: Intuitive Aspects of Healing is the first in her three book series on waking up to healing dreams. Kat taught Special Education and Psychology at (USF) University of South

What Is PTSD And How Does It Affect Breast Cancer Survivors?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Breast Cancer

Dr. Robin Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and licensed psychologist

Prior to my personal diagnosis with breast cancer, I was unaware that I had PTSD. I never had to examine my belief that everyone who gets cancer dies of cancer because that belief seemed normal to me. But in 1999 when I was diagnosed with Stage II estrogen positive breast cancer that belief was seriously in my way. This is what I learned about myself. Prior to the age of five I had a black nanny, Matt, that took care of me when my blue-collar hard working parents were working. I remember her sweet scent to this day. Before I could spend most of my hours at school, Matt had to leave me to take care of her sister who was dying from shhhh, “cancer.” Of course at the age of five I did not know this because the word cancer was not spoken nor at five could I have comprehended what it meant. I do know that Matt was replaced with skinny, old, white woman who did not smile, grumbled under her breath and whom I thought was mean. Later, when I was old enough to inquire why Matt left, I was told she had to go to take care of her sister who had cancer. Somewhere in that process the synapse in my brain put together that cancer causes people to leave your life permanently. Thus my fear of cancer killing people was written deep within my personal script.

It took some interpersonal work as to how I began to believe that people with cancer leave you but I finally connected the dots and it became crystal clear. Insight in and of itself does not change belief systems or the symptoms of PTSD that surround the beliefs. In order for me to get a new perspective I had to grieve Matt and say good-by to her sweet scent and plump cheeks. Then space inside of me opened up and I began to put adult emotions, feelings, and beliefs with this big C word, “cancer.”

PTSD, Post-traumatic stress disorder is a DSM V diagnosis in the mental health world. You have probably heard of it in relationship to war veterans returning home. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that causes the brain to fire in irrational and obsessive patterns after someone has gone though an extreme emotional trauma that involves a threat to his/her life or perceived threat of danger. Cancer, whether it is yours or someone who is close to you sends off alarms into your central nervous system bringing in hyper-arousal and says, “threat is on board.” Cancer and the very threat of cancer create the war like environment for PTSD.

Thus what can you do to cope with this threat in healthy ways to in order to respond to real or perceived threat of cancer in order to manage PTSD symptoms.

First, give yourself a break and acknowledge the truth. Cancer is scary and creates rivers and avenues of fear within. Don’t try not to be afraid. Being brave is not the same as not being afraid. Being brave means that you know and understand the risks involved and respond to each risk with positive action, regardless of your level of fear.

Second, get enough rest. PTSD symptoms are intrusive showing up in nightmares, disruptive sleep, and early morning dread. Discover which tools are going to help you rest. If you need a night -light because the dark is all of sudden too scary buy a soft light positive action night- light. One that makes your face smile when you see its glow in your dark room. Experiment with some night- time organic herbal teas, such as chamomile to see if tea will assist you to sleep. Melatonin can be tried as well. If you are in treatment and it is too uncomfortable to sleep lying down, then sleep in a recliner chair or propped up with a bouquet of pillows. Rest is your friend. When you worry, the very biology of worry breaks down your cells. If you are in chemo, radiation or both, then your healthy cells are getting beat up, so rest as much as you can.

Third, have an assortment of music at your fingertips. One day you might really want to hear angry heavy metal music blaring through your house because that might be reflecting your inner state and pleasant massage music is just too annoying when you are agitate. Let music reflect outwardly you inner state.

You can also inexpensively decorate or redecorate your environment. Make it bright, colorful and full of art that makes you smile. You may want to create a wall of 8X11 pieces of paper with one word on each piece of paper, such as hope, fight, care, do, and be. Use colors that make you smile. If something in your environment makes you growl or frown each time you see it, toss it immediately. Even if it is that ugly putrid green vase your mother gave you. Don’t keep stuff around you that you have to look at just because you feel like you should.

Other things that you can add to your environment to manage your PTSD symptoms are journaling your feelings, aromatherapy, funny movies, and good friends. Go to support groups, seek counsel from a professional who works with cancer patients and read to educate and inform your self. It is important that you come to this cancer well prepared and ready. Knowledge is power. Do not be afraid to learn about just exactly what is going on with you. Of course, it will be scary but the knowledge will help you make the best-informed decisions about your treatment and your life style.

Last, remember that you are priceless and valuable. Nothing you did caused this to happen to you. You are not bad. One day there will be a blog about shame and life threatening illness, but for today comfort and manage those PTSD symptoms.

Dr. Robin Dilley

Dr. 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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