Communicating through the Cancer Journey: Can We Talk?

Date & Time

Wed, 04/02/2014


This program is the fifth in a series of 2013-2014 programs with a focus on cancer, particularly as seen through the lens of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book The Emperor of All Maladies.

Developments in science and technology are necessary, but not sufficient, for effectively responding to the challenges of cancer. Unfortunately, talking about cancer is difficult for all involved, whether it is the person with cancer, their family or their health care providers. Why is this so hard? Dr. Beach will open this program with real world examples relevant to the questions of how communication occurs among patients, family members, and providers, what concerns are raised, and how they are responded to, in the context of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Audience members will be invited to hear and reflect upon audio recordings from actual family phone conversations, video recordings of oncology interviews in a cancer clinic, and scenes from When Cancer Calls…, a new genre of “reality” theatre where all dialogue is drawn from verbatim transcriptions of ordinary phone conversations. Dr. Mayer focused on the role of the different meanings we ascribe to the word ‘cancer’, the lack of comfort we experience having difficult conversations, and giving language to our most basic fears. While many of us have had personal experience in this area, only recently have programs and resources been developed to help us be better at and feel more comfortable having these conversations. A case study illustrated these issues.


To view a recording of this event, please click here.


Wayne Beach
San Diego State University

Dr. Beach is Professor in the School of Communication at San Diego State University (SDSU), Adjunct Professor, Department of Surgery, and Member of the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, UC San Diego. He is the author of more than 75 articles and chapters, including Conversations about Illness (1996) and the award-winning A Natural History of Family Cancer (2009). He has recently received the Faculty ‘Monty’ Award for Outstanding Research & Teaching Contributions to SDSU, Professor of the Year for the College of Professional Studies & Fine Arts (PSFA), the Translational Entertainment and Education Award from George Mason University, President’s Leadership Fund (PLF) and Dean’s Excellence Fund Awards from SDSU. His research support has come from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society, and several philanthropic foundations in San Diego. His current work examines how oncologists respond to patients’ hopes, fears, and uncertainties about cancer. He is also collaborating with theatre professionals in a production adapted from A Natural History of Family Cancer, documenting how family members actually communicate about and manage cancer on the telephone. This project, entitled Conversations about Cancer, is currently funded as an NCI Phase II effectiveness trial, and involves a multi-city dissemination.

Deborah Mayer
University of North Carolina

 Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN is an advanced practice oncology nurse who has consulted with organizations on issues to improve cancer care and has over 30 years of cancer nursing practice, education, research, and management experience. Dr. Mayer earned a PhD from the University of Utah, her MSN from Yale University, her BSN from Excelsior College, her Nurse Practitioner Certificate from the University of Maryland, and her diploma from Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing. Dr. Mayer is past president of the Oncology Nursing Society, was a member of the National Cancer Institute’s National Cancer Advisory Board (a Presidential appointment) and Board of Scientific Advisors. Dr. Mayer was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. She is the Editor for the Oncology Nursing Society’s Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing (CJON). Dr. Mayer has published over 80 articles and book chapters and lectures internationally on oncology and oncology nursing issues. Dr. Mayer is a member of the Adult and Geriatric Health Division in the School of Nursing and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her program of research focuses on the issues facing cancer survivors and improving cancer care. She has a clinical practice working with breast cancer survivors.

Michael Kalichman, Moderator
UC San Diego

Kalichman has taught research ethics for over 20 years. He is founding director of the UC San Diego Research Ethics Program since 1997 and the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium since 2006. Kalichman has taught train-the-trainer, research ethics workshops throughout the U.S. and for groups and institutions in Central America, Africa, and Asia. Internationally, he has had significant roles in a collaboration between the AAAS and the China Association of Science and Technology (CAST), co-chairing the working group for RCR education at the 2010 Singapore meeting of the World Conference on Research Integrity, and assisting Korean leaders in setting a national research ethics agenda. In addition, Kalichman is also the co-founding director for the Center for Ethics in Science and Technologysince 2004.

Event Resources


 Back, A. L., Arnold, R. M., Baile, W. F., Tulsky, J. A. and Fryer-Edwards, K. (2005),Approaching Difficult Communication Tasks in Oncology. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 55: 164–177.

National Cancer Institute (2013) Patient-Centered Communication in Cancer Care: Promoting Healing and Reducing Suffering

Cancer Communication Research Center, Kaiser Permanente

Communication in Cancer Care, National Cancer Institute

National Cancer Institute (2011). Taking Time: Support for People with Cancer. NIH number: 11-2059

National Cancer Institute (2012). When Someone You Love Is Being Treated for Cancer: Support for Caregivers. Bethesda, MD.

Oncotalk: Improving Oncologists Communication Skills, University of Washington

Silver, J. (2008). What Helped Get Me Through: Cancer Survivors Share Wisdom and Hope. Atlanta: American Cancer Society. ISBN 9781604430042

Patient Advocacy Resources from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship:

Recording of the event: