Having Courageous Conversations

By Bonney Elliott on June 7 / 2018


Bonney Elliott, a Cancer Coach at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, shares her insight on having some of life’s more difficult conversations with the people in your life when someone is facing cancer. 

As a Cancer Coach, it is a privilege to walk alongside people living with cancer and their loved ones as they deal with the many changes and challenges that come with their diagnosis.

We all have challenging conversations with the people in our lives from time to time, from talking to children about their behavior, to dealing with conflict in the workplace, to discussing end of life wishes with aging parents. Those living with cancer and their loved ones face multiple difficult conversations, whether it be with a partner, family, friends, colleagues, or their healthcare team, at a time when they are dealing with uncertainty, stress, symptoms, and the impact of tests and treatments.

While every person’s experience is unique, some of the themes we see in Cancer Coaching when it comes to tough conversations include the following:

• Sharing bad news with others
• Explaining cancer and treatment effects to children
• Requesting clarification about confusing treatment options
• Broaching the subject of advanced healthcare directives and end of life
• Letting loved ones know about emotional, practical and financial challenges
• Asking for help with caregiving
• What to say to people in the workplace when taking time off or returning to work
• Communicating with a partner the impact of cancer treatment on sexuality and body image
• Talking to family about dating again after the loss of a partner to cancer

Just thinking about initiating these conversations can be stressful. You may never have had to contemplate these issues before, and feel unsure of what you need. It can be challenging to talk about your health to others. You may be afraid of saying the wrong thing, or pushing people away. It can be quite hard to ask for help, or to tell someone something they do not want to hear.

Cancer Coaching can help you address some of these concerns and develop confidence, knowledge, skill and conviction when it comes to having difficult conversations related to cancer with people in your life. A Cancer Coach will not give you medical advice or tell you what to do. They will help you find tools and resources, and to prepare and practice ahead of time. For instance, together you and your coach may:

• Create a communication plan for sharing new developments
• Explore resources geared to the developmental needs of children and teenagers
• Look at evidence based, up to date sources of information about cancer
• Plan ahead for medical appointments
• Use clinical tools for decision making and clarification of personal values about health
• Connect to others facing similar situations
• Explore your rights and responsibilities in the work place
• Look to resources pertinent to your particular situation.
• Find the right time and place to talk to people in your life about what you need.

These conversations are not easy. They take courage, but they are worth having. Good communication can make the road of living with cancer a little less rocky, bring us closer to the people in our lives, and enhance well-being and quality of life.

Cancer Coaching is a free service offered to people living with cancer and their caregivers at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, at outreach sites East, West, and South of the city, and by phone or through a secure virtual portal. To find out more or to register to talk to a coach, please visit https://www.ottawacancer.ca/how-can-we-help-you/cancer-coaching/register-for-cancer-coaching/

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