Coping With Emotions

Sharing Your Cancer Story Benefits Other Patients and Yourself

A stressed cancer patient can receive support and comfort from other patients and survivors. Start sharing your personal cancer stories to start reaping benefits.

Within the cancer community is a collection of heartbreaking and inspiring tales. Sharing your personal cancer story with other patients has many benefits, from basic support and advice to life-preserving perspectives. It’s possible someone’s survival story can serve as the catalyst for positive change in your cancer fight. Besides the benefits of emotional relief, you may discover a fresh outlook. Conversely, sharing your cancer experiences may enlighten someone else, so much that he’s persuaded to share his own story with others. Hence, the cycle of life and concept of paying it forward continues.

What You Stand to Gain

Perhaps you’re confronting a decision-point regarding your cancer. Are you grappling with the stress of cancer? Wondering how others coped? Are you worried about the specific side effects of your treatment? Anecdotes from other patients give you the detailed, honest answers you want. A particular cancer story enabled me to make a difficult decision — one I struggled with for a long time. After hearing a personal story one spring day, I decided to amputate my bone cancer-riddled leg.

For many months, my oncologist broached the topic of leg amputation. It was my only option. In my head, a jumble of thoughts bumped into each other. Time elapsed, risks increased and I remained stubborn.

Then, my oncologist offered me a vetted mentor who could relate to my feelings. This cancer patient, named “John,” had gone through my same dilemma earlier in his cancer journey. At the cancer center, John shared his story involving bone cancer, how he grappled with leg amputation and how his cancer mentor (an amputee) assured him “life can go on.” I appreciated John’s candor and found solace in his real-life example.

From John I gained support, courage, confidence and clarity. I witnessed John’s abilities, heard about his passions and felt his zest for life. I wanted to emulate all those traits. I couldn’t stop thinking: If John did it, so can I.

And that is what comes from sharing stories. Nowadays, I’m a cancer mentor and find the role fulfilling. You may be influenced to help yourself and others by sharing your story. You can ease someone’s fears, help her make life-changing decisions and possibly even save a life.

How To Share Stories

According to a New York Times article, storytelling among patients is a way to foster alliances and establish coping mechanisms. And listening to and telling personal narratives could lower your blood pressure and help you deal with denial about your diagnosis. There are some basic principles to follow to ensure you get your story across clearly, effectively and considerately.

Introduce your story simply to gauge your listeners’ reactions. Some may be awkward with the topic, and some may stumble with questions. Let verbal and non-verbal cues dictate how you respond. Be willing to stop and take questions if people have them. You should be prepared to discuss the not-so-pretty stuff, like the side effects of chemo, radiation or medications. Let people relate to your authenticity.

You can start by being a mentor to a fellow patient at you cancer center or by telling a detailed story at your support group. If you’re apprehensive about the reactions of people in person, blog your story or post it on social media. You can try a message board that’s specifically targeted towards people with cancer or share it with everyone you know online.

Storytelling is a human trait, and the bottom line is human connection. You can change another patient’s life simply by talking about yours.

Sharing your cancer story can be challenging. UVA Cancer Center provides a safe space for you to talk about your experiences.

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Stephen Owsinski
Stephen Owsinski