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Navigating Emotions

Dear Iris: Unsolicited Advice

Dear Iris,

My co-worker gives me what seems like a play-by-play of her aunt’s cancer treatment. I think she feels like this brings us closer. A few days ago she said that they’ve found that juicing has really helped her energy and focus during treatment. Then yesterday she left an article on my desk about juicing during cancer and 5 recipes. I get that she wants to help, but this unsolicited advice is starting to make me really uncomfortable — I have enough on my mind already. How do I let her know I appreciate her helpfulness, but I’m not interested? 


Dear G,

This type of “being helpful” — even when it’s coming from a place of good intent — can be hard to manage. As it turns out, unsolicited advice on the topic of nutrition and cancer is widespread and rarely straightforward.

There’s no right or wrong way to navigate unwelcome advice. While cancer can represent a loss of control, keep in mind the fact that how you wish to talk with and how much you want to share about your health is within your control.  As you navigate unsolicited advice, keep in mind that whether it's from a loved one or a colleague, this will likely require a level of direct and honest communication from you, which for many of us, can feel uncomfortable.

Consider your emotions, how you think you may feel, and how the other person might react if you were to address this situation in the moment. Then consider whether you feel most comfortable addressing unsolicited advice directly in the moment or whether writing a note or sending a text message feels better.

To help you feel most prepared and in control, it can also be helpful to come up with some “back pocket phrases.” These are general responses that you’ve crafted prior to stepping into a potentially uncomfortable social situation.

For example, you might consider saying, “I appreciate you thinking of me and what’s helping me most is following the guidance of my oncology team [doctor/nurse/dietitian].” Practice what you might say in an uncomfortable situation with someone whom you trust such as a loved one or a mental health therapist.

Remember that you are not obligated to talk about your cancer experience with anyone. You can come across as respectful and assertive by saying something like, “I appreciate you sharing this information with me. I don’t feel like talking about my health while I’m at work. I will let you know if / when I do feel like talking about it.”

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Alexandra Gubin, LCSW

Senior Oncology Social Worker

Iris Oncology

Alexandra Gubin is a Mental Health Therapist with Iris. She has a medical social work background and extensive experience supporting people with cancer – especially young adults, teens, and children coping with cancer and their families. Alexandra also facilitates various support groups for the Cancer Support Community of Los Angeles, CA.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.