One of the most important ways to help communication is not only to ask “How are you feeling?” but also “What are you feeling?” If you think about it, “How are you?” is one of the most common questions we ask, but it can be a rather thoughtless one. The expected response is “Fine” or “Good.” It doesn’t allow for much discussion. When you ask, “What are you feeling?” you are digging a little deeper. Someone who is asked that question will get the impression you want to know how he or she really is doing.

When you ask the question, “What are you feeling?” be prepared to hear anything. The person may be thinking a lot about death or be worried about what the future holds for their children. Or maybe the person will tell you about their fears of not living another year. Be ready to really listen and hear whatever answer you get. You do not have to have a reply, but you must be ready to hear the pain or harsh thoughts that the question might provoke.

People with cancer sometimes like to get the opinions of those closest to them about their illness, treatment, and treatment outlook. Be open and honest, but don’t try to answer questions that you don’t know the answers to. The person with cancer will sense your honesty and appreciate it. If you want to know more about this, please see our document called When Someone You Know Has Cancer. You can get it by calling our toll-free number or visiting our Web site.