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  • Writer's pictureNed Neuhaus

How not to say the wrong thing

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

I was talking with a woman from our gym today, she doesn't have PD but has a rare form of cancer that she endured a major surgery for last fall. We don't get to see each other often and today was the most I have been able to talk with her about her health since the surgery.

First, the good news. Her most recent scan is negative and she is continuing immuno therapy that will last a full year. For a cancer that has a very low 5 year survival rate, that is probably the best news you can hope for. She is a VERY fit person. I believe before she knew she was sick, she finished in the top 50 in the world for her age group in the CrossFit annual competition. If she isn't the most fit person I know in my age group, she can't be far from second!

We talked a little about if she thinks her fitness level has anything to do with the positive news to date. Her response was mostly centered around recovery from the surgery, which seems very logical. As with anything, it is hard to guess what her experience with the cancer or the surgery would have been if she was of "normal" fitness level or below. I choose to believe she is better off than she would have been.

We also talked about her current fitness level. She admitted some decline in her ability to move as much weight as before the cancer. We agreed adjusting expectations in the face of a determined health foe is important, but not always fun.

Then she mentioned an article from 2013 that someone shared with her. It is written by Susan Silk, a clinical psychologist. I will include the link below. The title is the same as my post (How not to say the wrong thing). She told me she pulls this out often as she thinks about interactions she has with others about their health, personal situation, or any other difficult subject.

I really liked the article. My basic take away is the concept of Comfort IN, Dump Out. Sounds odd, but it is pretty brilliant. You first have to think of the person experiencing the subject as the center of concentric circles. They are the center dot. Draw the first circle around them. Put the person closest to them in that circle (most often, the spouse). Then draw the next circle which has children, parents, etc. The next circle as close friends, next level relatives, etc. Keep going with as many circles as you need.

The person at the center can say ANYTHING they want "This sucks!", for example. People taking to the person in the center need to offer comfort (Comfort IN). That seems pretty obvious, but many people feel the need to share advice, their experiences, etc. This is usually not helpful, because they are Dumping In, rather than Comforting In. However, people in the first circle can offer these comments to people in circles larger than theirs (outside circles) - this is Dumping Out.

There are great examples in the article. It's a quick read. Just remember, the next time you are about to Dump In, pause ... think and change whatever you planned to say to something that will Comfort In!

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