What To Say When People Ask: How’s He Doing?

If your husband has cancer, then undoubtedly you’ve been asked: “How’s he doing?”  I get asked this a lot and my answer has varied.  Sometimes I want to be completely honest and sometimes I don’t want to get into details.  I have to admit, sometimes I also want a little sympathy, especially when I’m not feeling particularly positive.

Why People Ask

Let’s talk about why people ask this question.  First off, it’s a way of showing care and concern.  By asking about your husband, people are saying they know what’s going on and want to express their sentiments. It’s a cultural norm as well, just like we ask, “how are you today?”  We’re not always expecting a long and detailed response, but its a way of being polite.

Why It’s Difficult to Answer

With cancer, this questions can be difficult to answer.  Its a very simple question for what can be a very complex answer.  Cancer treatments often take a long time and have lots of ups and downs in the process.  Its hard to convey this journey with just a couple of words.  How you might be thinking about your husband and his battle with cancer can vary from week to week, or even day to day.

Why it Matters How You Answer

I was getting asked frequently how my husband was doing and since we just received scan results back that were not exactly positive, I found the answer “OK” insufficient and not honest.  Yet, to go into a more complicated answer was difficult as well.  So, I thought about this a long time and actually talked to my husband about it.  His answer when people ask is to say “I’m healing.”  No matter what his situation or how the current treatment is going. I love this response, but more importantly it reinforces in his mind that he is in fact healing.  Every time he says it, he’s practicing that thought and conveying that intent.

Since you are not the one with cancer, you might not think it matters at all how you respond, but it does and here is why.  Every time you respond to the question your conveying your thoughts about his disease.  Every time you say it out loud, your reinforcing that thought. The more you practice that thought, the more ingrained it will become.  Now, if the answer is something positive like, “he’s doing great” or “on the road to recovery” then practicing that thought is not a problem.

Where it really matters is when the answer is not “great”.  How you respond to that simple question is the thought you will be practicing, whether you intend to or not.  And how you think about his cancer affects how you feel about it which will influence your actions.

For a while I was answering, “oh, the scan results are not what we would have liked, we still have work to do.” This sounds like a fairly neutral response, but the effect it had was to reinforce in my own mind that his cancer is “work” which led me to feelings of exhaustion and burnout.  Not at all helpful.  So while I was trying to be honest, yet not negative, I was still practicing the thought that helping my husband heal from cancer is work.  Because I also have a full time job, thinking of more work does not motivate me.  Thus, the feelings of burnout.

What Do You Want To Think?

Seriously give some thought to this. However you answer the question, “how is your husband doing?” will be the thought you will practice believing.  Think of it this way; when someone is training for the Olympics, they visualize winning regularly.  They practice that vision and think “I’m a winner.”  They do this because they know how powerful our brain is and what we think consistently will influence what we achieve. In the same way, anything we repeat consistently will become a belief and influence how we feel and act.  So if you are consistently repeating “we have work to do” as I was, I was inadvertently programming myself to feel burnt out.

Instead, my new answer is “he’s healing, thanks for asking.” I believe that. I’m not kidding myself or being falsely positive. I’m stating my intention and belief about the destination of this journey we are on.  It may seem like a little thing, but it can make all the difference.

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