The power of words

The saying “stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me” is not necessarily correct – words can do more harm than we could ever imagine.

Navigating patients through breast cancer treatment has allowed me to witness, and, often, commit the crime, we are all guilty of, speaking before we think. I hope the proverb ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ will hold true in this writing, and not that of the modified version of ‘sticks and stones (loosely translated in the oncology field as chemo, radiation and surgery) may break my bones, but words can really harm me.

“I am so sorry about your diagnosis, my aunt/gran died of cancer” is thoughtless, insensitive, and also not accurate. Oncology treatments get better and better, and yes, people do die of cancer, but many more live on to become survivors (thrivors).

I recently had a lady come down to the rooms in tears after her radiation planning; she was told that radiation burns and damages the tissue, and is worse than chemo…Come on! Another cancer patient told her this. Extremely inaccurate and harmful information was relayed to someone, who had a brilliant oncology result, and with radiation treatment, she would have had a small chance of the cancer returning.

The chemo chair is even worse; I often say treatment rooms are like hairdressing salons, and comments which might have not meant to cause harm have a profound impact on people. “My cancer came back in the other breast, I should have taken both off” is impervious and way-out; cancer does not jump from one breast to another, but rather tends to spread elsewhere. Removing both breasts does not protect anyone from cancer, and is purely a psychological choice, not a right or wrong one.

What is true is that the mind is extremely powerful and what we filter through it remains. We need to be extremely careful what we say, as those thoughts may stick in another person’s mind and cause a festering mess, and, at the same time, we need to be careful what information we access and from whom, but most importantly, we all need to try and say something positive everyday.

Written by Julie Belloni.

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