Finding the right words for my patients’ hard questions

On a recent visit to DC, I found myself feeling inspired; regardless of your politics, it’s almost impossible not to. At each monument, museum, memorial, and government building, I stood in awe of the boldness, faith, hope, and determination of our founding fathers and their unwavering belief in the future success of their American experiment. So many of these sites are inscribed with famous quotes from leaders who inspired generation upon generation with their words, quotes that laid the foundation of our country. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

Words matter. We use words every day with our patients along their cancer journey, and we can’t forget that our patients hang on to every word we use. These words can heal, provide comfort, and embolden hope; our words can also cause harm and be misinterpreted, leading to damaged relationships with our patients. As oncologists, we need to embrace our words and make efforts to better communicate with the people we care for.

Good communication isn’t learned overnight. It takes many years of watching and modeling mentors who are blessed with this subtle skill, as well as training and practice. Even the most seasoned attending will admit that this is a skill that they never stop honing.

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