Stressful Communication: try some broccoli and dandelions

by Betty Lochner on March 28, 2011

Here’s an experience that made me think about communication in stressful situations in a whole new way.

My sister, Jody, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  After several tests and procedures we were finally able to talk to her medical team about what it all meant.  I joined two of her daughters for the consultation meeting to discuss  her treatment plan.

We were greeted by a nurse who took us into a small exam room.  We were a bit anxious and I know that Jody was nervous about what we might hear and what the treatment plan would be.  We expected the surgeon or oncologist to be the first to come into the room.  Instead, it was a “research specialist”. She came in and cheerfully announced that there was a study Jody could be involved in based on the hypothesis that broccoli slows cancer cell growth.

The study involved extra visits, lots of paperwork, and mega doses of broccoli in a pill called something like Brocolox. We listened patiently. When she left, we all looked at each other and simultaneously cracked up. We were expecting some serious  and heavy stuff and instead got a broccoli researcher. Jody’s comment was, “I don’t where to put that information in my brain right now”.

Having some comic relief set the tone, and we proceeded to find something entertaining with each doctor (we saw about 6). One was named Dr. Choi (pronounced “Chewy”) so we got obsessed with Star Wars jokes and imitations while we waited for him.  When the oncologist arrived, he overused the metaphor of dandelions in a garden for cancer.  When the plastic surgeon arrived, we all lamented about what cup size we’d like to be if we got to choose.

Recapping the Experience

After 3½ hrs toggling between the serious and the comical,  we celebrated by going to dinner together.  We recapped the day (and laughed some more). We went back over what was talked about and we made a list of follow-up items.  It gave Jody a better sense of control over the situation, and helped her sift through the silly and the serious.

Positive communication can make a stressful situations easier

The experience reminded me that not taking even the most stressful situations too seriously can make it a whole different experience.  And though the treatment plan was serious stuff, embracing some humor allowed us to keep things in perspective.

It could have been a sad and depressing day, but thanks to some great opportunities that we took advantage of, the day wasn’t really that bad!


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home. And, it’s now available on Kindle! Check it out.

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