8 Steps to Enduring the Heartbreaking Conversations at The Doctor’s.

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8 Steps to Enduring the Heartbreaking Conversations... When you’re helping an aging parent battle cancer, you need tips and ideas to help you get through. Caregiving IS HARD and staying strong and healthy is tougher than you think. Whether you are fighting with your mom, your dad or even you spouse, you need inspiration to make life easier so you can keep fighting. #heartbreakingconversations #caregiverlife

Caregiving is freaking hard.

And the mental strength required for enduring the heartbreaking conversations you will have with the Oncologist takes some preparation. 

I am ashamed to admit that after battling Lung Cancer side by side with my dad, attending every appointment and following every direction, I was completely blindsided by the results of one of his scans.

What I mean by “blindsided” is, I burst into tears, “checked out” completely during the conversation with the doctor and just about “lost my mind” in that room.  It was a pretty intense reaction to a situation I should have been able to handle better.

Enduring the heartbreaking conversations, you have when cancer is involved is hard.

My father who had lost his hearing because of a rare syndrome associated with his cancer, was trying to bring me back,  (because he couldn’t hear a thing and in retrospect was probably scared to death by my reaction), He just kept saying, hold it together kid, you’re my ears!”

Not my finest moment.

The thing is, I was a great caregiver, but that day was EPIC fail.  If I was going to be strong enough to be the support system, I had to figure out how to get myself together, when everything came crashing down (because there is a lot of crashing in cancer).

Turns out, as stressful as that day was, we started a new treatment that actually worked for us and gave us a ton of extra time together.

A few weeks later when everything had settled down, I spent some time thinking about that appointment and took a long hard look at how I could have done better… And the first thing I figured out was enduring the heartbreaking conversations was part of the gig.

8 Steps For Enduring The Heartbreaking Conversations

Don’t Forget to Breathe

 I wish I could remember in the moments when the panic is raining down around me, and the tension is invading my whole body… to close my eyes take a deep breath.

I feel like that one little action helps me immensely!

A deep breath gives you a 2-second time frame to pause and just enough of a “break” to recalculate.

A huge (and unfortunate part) of an Oncologists job is to deliver heartbreaking news to people, so they will totally understand if you need a minute (or 10!) to collect yourself.

Focus as Best You Can

Trying to focus on the conversation when this “bomb” has just been dropped on you is terrible.  You’re trying to listen but, your mind is flying around in a million terrifying directions.

Try as much as you can to at least understand the action steps that you need to take.  Which brings us to our next step to enduring the heartbreaking conversations …

Write Things Down

 It helps you focus better (not well) but better.  And it helps to have a mission or a purpose that you have to carry out.  I was able to focus better if there was a job that needed to be done.

Write down anything you think that might be important.

  • What are the next steps?
  • Is there anything we can do right now today?
  • What are the recommendations going forward?
  • What do we do first?
  • Can they help us get started?

Don’t Make ANY Major Decisions

This is NOT the time to decide anything major.  This is the time to breathe and just get through this moment.

We had an awful situation where my dad had decided to stop treatment and I cried for a week after one of these conversations.  You can read the full story here, but the bottom line is we completely jumped the gun!

Until you have had a long and thorough discussion with the doctor about…

  • The current status
  • Treatment and options
  • Recommendations
  • Additional consultations
  • A plan

Then you should not make any permanent decisions.

Schedule a Follow Up Appointment

 Schedule the earliest appointment you can manage.  It will give you a chance to discuss the specifics after you have had some time to compose yourself and process everything.

Having time to clear your head and prepare for enduring the heartbreaking conversations will make it a little easier to focus on the next steps so that you have a clear plan of action when you leave.

Ask Clarifying Questions

Now that you’re in a better position to listen to what the doctor is saying and process the information that they’re giving you…

It’s time to clarify those questions.

  • What is the best course of action?
  • Is there a chance this is going to work?
  • What does this look like 6 months from now?
  • A year from now?
  • 5 years from now?
  • What are the next steps?
  • Are there any clinical trials that we would be a candidate for?
  • What is the recommended plan?

Get a Second Opinion

If this is an initial diagnosis, if you’re not sure about the right course of action for where your journey has taken you, or if you have any hesitation AT ALL about the treatment you’re receiving…

Get a second opinion.

Cancer is not like other diagnoses.  When things get out of control with cancer, it’s really hard (if not impossible) to get it back.  So, you want to hit this thing head on so you can have the best shot at keeping it contained.

Read this list before each appointment

It’s like practicing before the big event and even if you don’t remember everything in the moment, you might remember pieces.  When I started to do this, I would always remember to write things down and So even if I only remembered key phrases it worked for me.

You want the best course of action possible to deal with this and moving forward is much easier when you have your head in the game and you can think clearly.  Focusing on the 8 steps to enduring the heartbreaking conversations before I landed in the situation, helped me ensure that we didn’t have a repeat of the earlier situation.

This way, I could keep my head in the game when it mattered and fall apart once we were done.  It’s like training yourself to stay focused through the important stuff so you can fall apart once the important part is done.

What’s your best advice for enduring the heartbreaking conversations?

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