Other people’s reactions to your cancer

Almost every client I see has experienced the ‘tilted head’ at one time or another. What is this shared experience? Whether it be the person closest to them or a colleague who just heard the news, a familiar feeling washes over you when that head tilts to one side, the eyes become kind and you know in no uncertain terms a whole lot of sympathy is coming your way.

This can be extremely unhelpful to deal with, even though it comes with the best of intentions. The trouble is that people do not know what to say or do to convey their own feelings and responses to your illness. They want to show that they care and that they are concerned about what you are going through, but often all you want to know is that they still see you as the same person. The tilted head leads to you having to soothe them and reassure them that you are in fact fine and coping well. This is a tough situation to negotiate as what is intended as a show of support, ends up with the onus being on you to smooth it over.

We have all done it and even when we have had the experience of being the recipient, we will probably do it again. But there are no words to convey the empathy we feel, or indeed the helplessness of seeing someone we care about fight to keep their health.

So what can you do? Sometimes there is no right way or words that anyone can offer us. When this is the case, you have to handle other people in the way that feels best for you at that time. You might need to let the sympathy flow towards you, or to let it just pass straight through, or you may even be able to let someone know what you need. Often humour is a way to break the ice, and ignoring unhelpful reactions can help at other times.

It may be trial and error until you decide what is right for you. Let in the good and let go of the bad. It is your journey and you will get through the best way you know how. Support from loved ones is vital, so keep close those people who just ‘get it’ and do not be afraid to have space from those who do not.

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