When I was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, I began the process of informing friends and family. As I shared the news, I was hoping to receive comfort and support. That's not what happened. Most of the people I told responded by sharing a chilling story of their own about someone in their life who died from cancer.
Looking back, I realize the story they told me was a window into what it was like to hear the news. At the time, their stories increased my anxiety and fears. Here's two examples of misguided comforting.
- "I'm so sorry you have prostate cancer. That's what killed my father." After this comment I took a month-long break before telling another healthy person I had prostate cancer.
- *"Why are you complaining or think you need support? You've been cured of cancer and you should be feeling grateful."
There is a well-intentioned belief that providing good comfort involves saying something to make emotional pain less painful. If that's your goal, the odds are you will say something the hurting person feels is foolish, unhelpful, or worse, will alienate the hurting person from you and other people.
Telling someone who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer they have "the good cancer" is not remotely helpful. In fact, a such a foolish comment could damage your friendship.
Here's my solution for those who'd like to become a good comforter:
• Give up the goal of trying to reduce the other person's pain. Good comfort may increase the pain of the person who is hurting. How can that be?
• Good comfort gives a hurting person permission to share what they are thinking and feeling. Asking a question is a good beginning.
A question like this: "What was it like for you to find out you had prostate cancer?" Good comfort doesn't shut down the hurting person; good comfort allows for the expression of what's on the mind of the person who needs your comfort.
• A good comforter listens without passing judgment. A good comforter listens without offering comfort clichés or unsolicited advice. A good comforter doesn't feel guilty if he or she can't make another person's pain lessen or disappear. A good comforter has the courage to hear, listen and share in the suffering of another person.
My last piece of advice is this: If you don't know what to say, don't say anything; just listen. There are too few good listeners in this world. If you become a good listener, you'll become a great comforter.
Note: This article appeared in Prostate Cancer News Today
Rick Redner and his wife Brenda Redner wrote two award winning books. The first:
provides men and couples with information and support before, during and after prostate surgery.
Their second book was written for couples living with!erectile dysfunction. After living with erectile dysfunction for four years, Rick chose penile implant surgery. The couple share how implant surgery changed their lives and relationship.
The title of their book is: