Jumpers, Minimizers, and Fixers
Dealing with Responses I Wish I Hadn’t Heard
by Craig T. Pynn
Scattered among the hundreds of thoughtful and caring responses I received to my prostate cancer diagnosis from my family, friends, and colleagues, there were a few reactions that were difficult to handle. After listening to several people attempt to say the right thing while assiduously avoiding the idea of cancer itself, I sorted their deflective responses to my bad news into one of three categories: jumpers, minimizers, and fixers.
A jumper’s favorite expression is “Don’t worry. Everything will turn out fine.” Variations include, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” and “God gives you only what you can handle. I know you’ll be able to handle this.” While responses like these were meant to be encouraging, in the end they felt like clichés that moved immediately to a happy ending – and jumped right over my need to process, and eventually to accept, the fact that aggressive cancer had become a reality in my life.
From my point of view, it would be a fairly long time before I would be able to say, “Yes, everything did indeed turn out just fine.” By focusing only on the happy ending, the jumpers inadvertently excluded the intermediate struggles that lay between now and then.
By focusing only on the happy ending, the jumpers inadvertently excluded the intermediate struggles that lay between now and then.
Eventually, I decided that the jumpers, by automatically presuming an optimistic outcome, did so because they were simply emotionally unable to entertain bad endings. My standard reply to their presumed sunny outcome became, “Well, I certainly hope so.”
At least the jumpers always assumed a positive end. I was less sure about the minimizers. To be sure, prostate cancer has one of the highest cure rates of any cancer. But as I was looking down the long dark corridor of tests, procedures, and eventually, treatment, all these positive statistics missed the point of my individual experience with aggressive cancer. Rather than encouraging me, the minimizers only tended to deepen my gloom when they made comments like, “Oh, my husband had prostate cancer. They took it out and he’s fine now.” Or, “Prostate cancer has a high cure rate, you know.” Yes, I already knew. Or, “My brother-in-law came through the surgery with flying colors. You’d never know he had cancer.”
Despite their undeniable good intentions, the minimizers’ focus on what had happened to other people conspired to diminish my own experience, possibly even implying that I was just a whiner at heart. In the end, my response to the minimizers was simply to say, “I’m really glad things worked out well for him.”
Many married men have probably heard their wives accuse them of trying to “fix” a problem rather than taking the time to listen sympathetically to their feelings. I certainly count myself among that oblivious multitude. But it was only after hearing several men tell me what I should do in order to cure my cancer did I really get what my wife, Susan, had been telling me all these years about prescribing a quick fix without actually listening to her. Fixer statements I heard included “You should have the proton beam treatment,” “Make sure you insist on robotic surgery,” and “I know a great urologist.”
All these solutions were offered before I even had a definitive staging of my cancer, much less even knew what treatment options would be feasible for me. As with the jumpers and minimizers, these statements were made with a sincere intention to be helpful. But every fixer definitely hews to the cliché “fire, ready, aim.” Once again, all I could do was smile appreciatively and say, “That might be an option. We’ll have to see how things go.”
Within a few weeks of my diagnosis, I had pretty much gotten used to the jumpers, minimizers, and fixers. I always wanted to keep in mind that their intentions were harmless. Their messages were just clumsy. I had certainly responded in a similar manner to other people’s problems at one time or another without realizing I might be doing harm.
By focusing on the caring intentions that lay behind their words, I could see they meant only the best for me. As time went on and they recovered from the initial shock, most of the jumpers, minimizers, and fixers eventually became sympathetic – even empathetic – listeners. Had I made the sarcastic responses that so greatly tempted me when I heard their comments, I would have hurt both them and me. In this instance, I was glad that I had chosen to be patient.
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Craig Pynn is an advanced prostate cancer survivor living in California. He is a consumer reviewer for the Prostate Cancer Research Program of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. He is also the founding principal of Helios Marketing Advisors, Inc.
Excerpted with permission from One Man’s Life-Changing Diagnosis: Navigating the Realities of Prostate Cancer, by Craig T. Pynn, copyright © 2012. Published by Demos Health, demoshealth.com.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2013.