Syndicated columnist offers advice for cancer patients on dealing with anxious supporters
According to a recent syndicated "Ask Amy" column by Amy Dickinson, the circles — otherwise known as "ring therapy" — conceptualize "the important idea that, when dealing with tough to tragic times, it is important for the person at the center of the circle [the patient]…to preserve her strength by only dealing with the person most intimately involved in her care — this might be a spouse, family member, or friend."
Other relationships, she wrote, "arrange outward in concentric rings. This is called the 'kvetching order.'"
Dickinson's column, which was in response to an elongated cry for help by a breast cancer patient who signed her plea "Not Dead in California," said that "ring therapy is mainly…to give you permission to react the way you want to during a time when you need to preserve your strength."
The patient is "not supposed to be worrying about how to be gentle and polite," she adds.
Dickinson also notes that the patient "can say anything (complain, cry, howl at the room) to those in outer rings, but those in outer rings should limit their own needs, fears, and statements and focus only on being helpful. No unsolicited advice, no raging at the injustice of it all, no demands for comfort or constant updates."
The letter-writer had explained that a close friend was "having trouble coming to terms with my diagnosis, as well as my not taking her up on her offers of help (yet)," and noted that the friend had "called a few nights ago sobbing and looking to me to help her feel better [about my long-term prospects and diagnosis], "which isn't as good as it could be, but…also not as bad as it could be."
She went on to say that she'd "rather not be calming down my friends when inside I'm losing my mind with the slow paced of health care and juggling my appointments and treatments" and, in this particular case, "cannot be the person making [the friend] feel better about my illness."
The columnist advised the letter-writer to tell members of her support group that she understands "that this is hard for you, but I can't help you through this. I've got too much on my plate" — and to encourage such friends, when they are upset, "to contact someone else in an outer ring."
Details of how I, Woody Weingarten, dealt with my wife, Nancy Fox, when she was being treated for the disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I aimed at male caregivers.
It — and the Marin Man to Man website about a weekly support group I've been running since that time — includes anecdotal material about how she hadn't wanted to worry about my reactions to what was going on with her.