Unsolicited Medical Advice: The Dos and (Mostly) Don’ts

I’m grateful to say that I received generous support from friends, families, medical providers, and strangers as I battled and overcame breast cancer last year. But, along the way, one unpleasant moment sticks in my mind: being the recipient of unsolicited medical advice. Let me preface this by saying that while I received the standard medical treatment for breast cancer (chemo, radiation, and a mastectomy) I am very open to the idea of alternative medicine and saw a functional medicine practitioner, in addition to my other doctors, during my treatment and continue to as my body fully heals. I have some hippy tendencies and do things like avoiding fragrances and buying organic. I even took therapeutic marijuana (drops, not joints) during chemo as an alternative medicine to combat the intense nausea.

Despite all this, on one occasion, I was cornered—seriously, I was standing in a corner, by a person I barely know and subjected to a monologue/lecture about the natural product this person sold.

They said things like: “Surely your doctor won’t have you do A, B, or C” and “Could I come to your house and do a presentation?” This encounter left me overwhelmed, anxious, and in tears. I felt attacked, judged, and like I’d received a sales pitch. I wish I’d been more direct at the moment, saying: “I’m sure you mean well, but I don’t want to talk about this.” But I felt so caught off guard that I just listened and nodded along. When this person later approached my husband with this same information, he quickly shut them down. Thank God for him!

Now, this person’s input could’ve been really valuable.

But the delivery made it nearly impossible for me to receive. Facing a life-threatening disease is scary and vulnerable. The options for treatment are endless. So, to argue with a person’s treatment plan with fear tactics and without gauging their interest first, is inappropriate, to say the least.

On the other hand, two pieces of unasked-for advice stick out as good experiences: a friend texted me early on with something she’d come upon in her own health journey. She acknowledged that I was probably hearing from everyone and their grandma and she gave me quick details on a supplement. It was via text, didn’t feel pushy, and I was truly thankful. Another friend reached out with a couple of recommendations in a similar way. I really liked the wording she used: “Hey, my friend’s mom has been using this during treatment. This is just the information, things to try if it resonates, if not then hopefully the intention of sharing can be received in a way that brings rejuvenation to your spirit in this leg of the journey.” I love this because it is obvious that she didn’t expect anything from me. In both of these instances, I felt cared for and not pressured. There was no anxiety from the other person and no need for me to give an instant reply since it was communicated via text. Also, even though I’m not in regular contact with these women currently, I know they genuinely love and support me.

The sharing of unsolicited medical advice happens frequently in the cancer community and in the chronic disease community.

Additionally, let’s face it, most moms have experienced being on the receiving end of someone sharing their unwanted opinion about their child’s health and wellbeing. There have been many times in my life that I’ve been super thankful for things people recommended that I would’ve never known about. But it’s usually best given when asked for. If not asked for, give it in a text or email, not in person. Give it without expectation or judgment. Do not give it forcefully. And definitely don’t give it if it financially benefits you.

Of course, there were many other times when I reached out to women who I knew had gone through cancer and their advice has been an invaluable source of wisdom and encouragement to me. And like I mentioned, I’m all about taking supplements and seeking alternative medicine for health. But my preference, and I think the preference of others in my situation, is to be met with sensitive care and genuine concern by anyone offering advice.

Lastly, if you’re the recipient of unsolicited medical advice or any unsolicited advice for that matter, I think it’s important to remain soft-hearted and offer forgiveness to the offending person. Assume good intent even if the delivery was a flop. In my situation, it was tempting to allow bitterness and resentment to build up in me towards the person who cornered me because I felt so offended. But ultimately it doesn’t serve me well to allow those feelings to fester. I had to actively pray and choose to forgive, but in doing so I was able to experience peace.


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