It’s Your Word

When you have a negative experience with a product or company, do you write to them about it? I don’t always, but I have on occasion.

It’s hard to forget how awful British Airlines was when Jeff’s dad was dying and we were trying to change flights so Jeff could get to Cape Town in time to see his father alive. We were treated so poorly; I had to let them know what happened. I wasn’t satisfied with the results and have vowed never to fly them again. Conversely, in the world of communications, I’ve worked with say, a printer, and when the final product was completed there were bindery issues. There wasn’t a question that they would remedy the situation, as fast as possible and at no charge. I would continue to use this provider because they took accountability for the problem and made amends.

During this BRCA journey, I have had a few negative encounters with practitioners. One was a lauded oncology gynecologist. I thought it might be useful to have a female doctor perform the Bilateral Salpingo Oophorectomy (BSO) to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes to prevent ovarian cancer. As the procedure would put me into surgical menopause, I considered the side effects as issues that perhaps I would feel more comfortable talking about with a woman.

In order to get an appointment for a consultation, this doctor would review my records and decide if I was an appropriate candidate to see her. Honestly, I felt a bit like I’d won a prize when I got the call that we were approved to see the doctor. That elated feeling was burst from the moment we met her. Dr x was 1-1/2 hours late for our appointment. Even that didn’t deter us. We were patient patients, awaiting the surgeon who would potentially bring a resolution to my risk for ovarian cancer.

It was her attitude from the get-go that was shocking. “What are you here for?” she said with disdain in her voice. Hadn’t she read my records? Didn’t I have to be approved to see her? Didn’t she know I was just diagnosed BRCA2? I explained. She said nothing. “We have some questions,” I said. She stared blankly. I asked what the surgery entails. In the briefest way possible she answered. I asked more questions. She was irritated, condescending and responded with clipped answers. Jeff asked about the surgery. “I already explained it to you,” she said. I asked if she could please take us through the procedure again with more detail so Jeff’s question could be answered. And again, such disdain. I went through more of my list, even knowing she was not a fit, but I wanted to see some compassion or empathy. Some bit of humanity. She was just plain irritated by what seemed like our wasting her time.

I asked about the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and she said she would refer me out to the high risk breast cancer group. She wouldn’t even be the one working with me on side effects of menopause! And she wasn’t receptive to further questions about HRT. Her attitude never improved and we ended the consult. She never once asked about me, my concerns, how I was handling the news or how Jeff was feeling.

We left, reeling from the utmost lack of compassion and professionalism. We were stunned. Dumbfounded. It took us a few days to get over the feeling.

I let the people who referred me to this doctor and the hospital she is associated know about how we were treated because it was completely unacceptable.

Last week, I encountered a healer at a party; I had worked with her years ago after my mother’s passing from cancer. When she inquired with interest in how I was doing, I told her briefly about my BRCA2 result. She immediately responded, “I hope you didn’t do anything stupid.” WOW. Here I was, three weeks after my BSO, and a healer who works in the area of trauma responds with such ignorance. I was once again shocked. And days later, moved to write to her about the insensitive words she used.

She responded that it was a “knee-jerk reaction” and apologized and affirmed her interest in my health and happiness (though in the same response she also used the following words: when I thought you were going to tell me you had cut your breasts off like Angelina Jolie. Might she have chosen to use different words than “cut your breasts off” I perhaps would have felt that she was truly nonjudgmental about the choices I made/am making).

In situations like these, one is reminded of how powerful our word is. It can evoke the most tremendous response–caring, love, joy, excitement, warmth, grace, inspiration, unity. It can also instill much more dangerous feelings, like fear, sadness, repulsion, anxiety … I can’t help but think about how bullies use their words for such destruction. I’ve encountered more than my share of bullies but when I was younger, I didn’t know the power I had to defend myself with my words or how I could reframe those words to better direct my inner experience of those bullies.

Scientific research has shown that words can affect our moods. There’s even a field, called Transformational Vocabulary, which is about understanding how the words we attach to our experience become our experience. This video about transforming your words has been viewed over 17 million times. I think it will move you.

Our words have the power to create change (speaking out for our rights) and reframe our experiences (take a negative experience and transform it into a neutral one or take a good experience and make it great) by consciously choosing them and choosing how they are perceived (speaking with authority vs irritation). Here’s a great video poem that reminded me about the impact of speaking with authority.

The #NotBuyingIt campaign by calls-out sexism in the media, particularly the ways media affects women and girls’ ability to see themselves as leaders and be seen as leaders by others in society. Their next documentary and campaign effort, The Mask You Live In, asks: As a society, how are we failing our boys? People worldwide are responding and affecting change.

It’s your word. Hopefully we’ll get better at using them to better things, cause positive things to happen, to help others in positive ways.