The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Understood Listening

by Theresa ReesSurvivor, Hodgkins LymphomaSeptember 11, 2023View more posts from Theresa Rees

The word “understand” seems like a simple word to comprehend, but it is not as simple as it seems. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a slew of medical professionals try to deduce my symptoms and the side effects I experienced without looking at me as an individual. They read and looked at their words but did not listen to my words. They chose to lessen my words. Active listening skills are so important in any conversation. You want to understand what is being said so that you can be part of that conversation. I will never comprehend why some doctors choose to not “actively” listen to me when I talk. It is a skill that would be so beneficial for both parties and make appointments less annoying… Or maybe annoying appointments are just a me thing? Eventually, I did get some medical professionals who listened to and read my words. I am not picking on the medical field. It is a problem I have heard from so many different people all over the world.

When I was in college, about a year or so after finishing chemo, I started experiencing chest pain. Chest pains were what first indicated that something was wrong with my body, so I thought, “Oh no, is it happening again? This cannot be happening again.” 

I was doing online classes at the time so I had the comfort of being in my own home when the pains would be happening, but they kept happening the whole semester. I remember I was doing a slideshow project with a classmate and told her I was having a tough time with chest pains again. I also told my teacher that I would be heading to the emergency room. They both said they understood. The project was to be submitted in about a week. Soon after, I ended up in the emergency room again. I emailed my teacher to ask for notes/slides and about a missing grade. She emailed me this gem. (Yes, I saved it. It gave me even more drive to finish the class and get my degree!)

“I hope that you have made lots of friends in the emergency room because you visit so often. Thanks for letting me know about the discussion board post.”

When you go through something that changes your life you have a thinner line for peoples’ judgments. I know I do. I am a nice person… but nice does not quite mean that I will not bite back! I have told a handful of people about that teacher and how she leaned on her own understanding of students she has had in the past. I could have gotten real pissed (I did at the time) and came back with a wild email, but I did not—what I did was have an email that had emotion to it but also called out her email in a way I felt comfortable.

My reply was, “I wish I had friends there, then there would be more of a drive to figure out what is going on with me. I do not plan to go to the emergency room monthly, but somehow in the last 2-3 months, that has happened. I want to finish my classes, graduate, and find a job. I do not want or need this illness anymore.”

“Knowledge is power” is a saying that most people have heard. It is true, knowing about something is a power. A fitting example of this is if you sign up for a CPR class and take the class, you study the material, practice it, and you get certified in CPR. Then one day you are at a bus stop, and you see someone choking. You have the knowledge to assess the situation, see what needs to be done, do it, and save a life in the process. That is a skill that anyone may have if they study such a subject. You can pick up a book and learn a new skill that could be helpful in your life or somebody else’s life. We go to school to learn and understand, but we often lose the ability to understand those around us as we grow. Why do you think that is?

Grasping a concept someone shares makes people feel great and heard. A great example of this is ASL: words through signs. My mom used to take care of a little redheaded boy who would sign what he wanted. I was at the house one day and he kept signing something, but I did not know what it was, so I asked him to show me. He took my hand and brought me to his DVDs. There was a DVD that had a kitten who took baths. I learned the signs for kitty and bath that day because I listened to his words. Taking the time to figure out what he wanted and needed did not just help me understand him but helped him understand me—he was so happy when I was signing next to him. Being humble shows that you are not full of yourself; you may make mistakes, but you are willing to learn to make yourself a better person.

So often people get tied down to what they think the other person is trying to say without listening to them and seeing what is being said. People need to slow down a bit more and take the pace that needs to be taken. There needs to be more active listening happening with our ears, our eyes, and body. Yes, this is a high-paced life. People can get swept up in things and jump to conclusions, but we can also take the time to learn to listen and understand what the people and the world around us are saying. I will leave you with the words of Charles Reade: “If you wish to please people, you must begin by understanding them.”

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