Embracing Humanity During National Cancer Survivor Month patient advocacy expert Whitney Segel tips for healthcare providers communicators
June is National Cancer Survivors Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the millions of adults and children across the U.S. who have been diagnosed with cancer. For healthcare providers and communicators, it should also be a time to reflect on how we can elevate our work to advocate and support the communities we serve. We have an obligation to ensure that families living with cancer have their voices and vulnerabilities heard. Every story represents unthinkable challenges. By embracing humanity and sharing their stories, each individual can bring comfort and understanding to countless others.
A human behind every story
My stepdad died from prostate cancer. But that wasn’t the first-time cancer affected me personally. By the time he was diagnosed, cancer was part of my daily vocabulary, it was part of my job as a healthcare communications professional focused on patient advocacy. I had met so many mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, all impacted in some way by cancer. Though it was my work that connected me with these families, the relationships formed would forever change me.
Connecting with People Living with Cancer
Each person’s experience with cancer is different. Cancer is deeply personal. Utterly raw, human, and emotional.
As a communicator and passionate patient advocate, I feel a responsibility to every individual I have the privilege of getting to know, to ensure their experiences, their voices, are not only heard but acknowledged and embraced. By empathizing and providing a platform for storytelling, we can become the eyes and ears of people living with cancer, their advocates, and caregivers.
How can healthcare providers and communicators make meaningful connections with people living with cancer?
1. Establishing a genuine relationship
Most people thrive on genuine human-to-human relationships and authentic connections. A cancer diagnosis often leads people to feel dehumanized by a distant world. This is where empathy-driven relationships and interpersonal communication must take hold. Relationships need nurturing, so connect often and make each interaction personal. Put in the work to know the person behind a cancer diagnosis and understand, to the extent possible, their experiences. Ask about their family, hobbies, and life before and after cancer. These pieces make each patient unique and will allow us to connect and better understand their individual experiences and circumstances. By listening to their stories, we can craft impactful communications for the patients we serve.
2. Being vulnerable
Part of having a genuine relationship is creating balance. Patient advocates volunteer to share their most vulnerable experiences. As communicators who engage with people living with cancer, it is our job to ensure we give back and support. Find common ground. Start by sharing your own connection to cancer. Being vulnerable ourselves will open the dialogue to real, human-centric conversations, revealing the most authentic story to tell.
3. Listening with purpose
Every detail within a conversation has meaning. Once you’ve established a relationship based on trust, people living with cancer and their caregivers can provide invaluable feedback to health information they receive. Patients are inundated with health information 24/7, so listen to what works and what doesn’t. Understand the way they hear, perceive, and interpret that information. If we listen with purpose to understand their unique experiences and how it shapes perceptions, we can better develop resources and materials that will not only resonate but make a profound impact on the cancer community.
Building relationships with people living with cancer requires a conscious effort to listen with purpose, embracing humanity and empathy with each interaction. As healthcare communicators, we can bring purpose to our work and make a positive and lasting impact, which is the ultimate reward.
Whitney Segel is Vice President at Goodfuse Communications