Monday, November 4, 2013


Who among us hasn't experienced the awkward moment when a well-meaning person utters something inane (or insane) in response to our discussing our cancer treatment or diagnosis (and/or our mental, physical or emotional processing of the two)? You know, the verbiage that doesn't stay inside their head but is inappropriately spilled out onto yours. And you, as the cancer patient, are left feeling unheard, misunderstood, and thinking, Did he/she really just say that? 

Many bloggers have written about "What to Say to Someone With Cancer" because it is such a common occurrence. Anyone who has had cancer can probably rattle off not one, but numerous crazy comments tendered their way, ranging from "But you look good!" to "Oh yeah, my [co-worker's wife, great aunt, brother's brother-in-law, best friend's father, uncle's ex-wife, you-fill-in-who] died of cancer."

Just when I thought I had read every angle about this timely topic, I came across an enlightening (albeit six-months-old) Op-Ed on the Los Angeles Times' website that I just had to share.

The writers of the Op-Ed succinctly solve a very dicey dilemma — the one where otherwise intelligent people freeze up and say really stupid (and sometimes hurtful) stuff. To your face. In the face of crisis. Your crisis. Oops.

The piece, entitled, "How Not to Say the Wrong Thing," was penned by Susan Silk (a clinical psychologist) and Barry Goldman (an arbitrator and mediator).  Together they address common blunderings with ablomb. They refer to it as "The Ring Theory of Kvetching." Brilliant.

There are a few simple steps to their theory.

1. The first: "Draw a circle," say Silk and Goldman. "This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma."

2. The second is just as simple: Draw a larger circle around the first circle you drew. "In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma," they instruct. Easy enough.

3. The third step takes a tad more thought as you continue to pen more and more circles, as Silk and Goldman explain: "Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones."

Once you have completed your concentric circles, you have what Silk and Goldman call a "Kvetching Order." And the Kvetching Order is key, as it holds the secret to what to say to someone with cancer. I can't reveal their secrets. For that, you have to read their Op-Ed on the LA Times website HERE yourself. (Trust me. It's so brilliant you'll wish you had thought of it yourself.)

Now go kvetch. Correctly.


  1. I've also seen this ring theory before and also found it a good explanation. The circles are a brilliant way to go about comfort and questions. Very good article link! ~Catherine

    1. Catherine, I found the kvetching ring so practical! Very cool that you have seen it before!

  2. dear Renn,

    I read the article - and found the ring theory makes so much sense! thanks so much for posting about it; I think I will also make a drawing and put it someplace prominent. I am dreading some gatherings coming up soon with much of the same blithering and inane comments; makes me tempted to pin it to my chest! just after hugh died, it was my grandchildren's big bash joint b'day party. when I stepped out on to their deck and saw all the people whom I knew would be telling their tales of woe (who just died and in what manner) and dishing out those bitterly unpalatable platitudes about both cancer and loss, I made a U-turn and spent the next 5 hours wandering the premises as the official photographer of the occasion just to stay occupied and AWAY - I was so tired the next day I could hardly walk! but I simply could not face listening to all of what goes into my ears like Charlie Brown's teacher talking - wah wah wah. this time i'll be ready for 'em! thank you for this great post.

    much love and light,

    Karen XOXOXOX

    1. K.A.R.E.N.! Always so happy to see a note from you! I totally get your decision to turn the other way at your grandson's party, grab your camera and stay safe. TOTALLY get it! We must do whatever it takes to preserve our personal equilibrium. Glad you are taking care of YOU. {{{hugs}}} my friend!

  3. Hi Renn, it's been awhile! This article was great. My family needs to read it. My cousin has stage IV lung cancer at 53 and her sister just died of breast cancer at 55, so everyone is abuzz. I keep hearing from family members closer to the center "once her body started making cancer cells..." They are dumping out, but don't think they realize they are dumping out to me and i might not be the one who wants to hear it either. Even though this time around I'm not in the center I think there is that small part in me that holds the fear of a reoccurrence. I think overall this theory works, just not for those of us still recovering or "managing" life after cancer in an outer circle. Hmmm, maybe this is lack of sensitivity and common sense which seems to be lacking in a crisis. Best, Lindsey

    1. Lindsey! Long time no chat! I'm so sorry to hear about your cousins. And so frustrating when folks feel the need to explain the how and why of cancer. There IS no how and why of cancer. Logically we know they are scared but then again, so are we! Little comfort there. Recurrence fears are natural and something we must live with. "Managing" life after cancer is a good way to put it. Hang in there with the family and maybe suggest folks talk to others who are not as "close" to cancer as you are. Easier said than done! I hope all is well in your neck of the woods. Thanks for swinging by!

  4. Renn, I read the LA Times piece, and it IS brilliant. Thank you for sharing!


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