Conversations About Cancer

Cancer patients' communication gives them sense of control

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When you have cancer, suddenly you lose a feeling of control about your life - and your future. One thing you can control, though, is how you talk with friends and family about what you're facing.

Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin have found that managing how and what they communicate - or don't communicate - can  be empowering for cancer patients during a turmultuous time.

"Cancer patients benefit from control of communication around their disease."

Upon learning they have cancer, some people want to talk about it freely. Others would rather communicate with only a few of their closest friends and family members.

And while patients can control how they communicate about the topic, they can't control how the person listening will respond.

To explore this area, Erin Donovan-Kicken, assistant professor of communication studies at UT-Austin and two graduate students interviewed a number of cancer survivors to analyze their experiences of talking about cancer.

Participants were asked how they conveyed information about their illness - how they started conversations, with whom they spoke, challenges they ran into and advice they received or would give others regarding talking about cancer.

The researchers found that communication served as an important coping mechanism. And protecting that communication gave patients a way to exert control during a time of turmoil. The patients decided who they would talk with, what to share and what to withold.

Participants said it was especially important to have people they felt safe with - friends and family with whom they could be completely open, feel ill or fall apart emotionally.

And while the patients have control over their own communication, they can do nothing about the responses they receive.

Donovan-Kicken says this research could lead to patient literature and counseling being refined to offer guidance on how patients can manage their meaningful communication in ways that best suit their own needs.

This study is published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 12, 2011
Last Updated:
August 15, 2011