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Ring Theory

If you’re a young adult facing cancer, I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of unwelcome comments.  Maybe you’ve had a friend that found your diagnosis too difficult for them to handle.  Or maybe you are a friend or loved one of someone going through cancer and you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Well, have you heard of Ring Theory?

It’s a fairly simple concept that can be extremely helpful for cancer patients and their loved ones.  Let’s take a look at how it works.

Start by drawing a small circle.  This is the center of the ring.  In it, put the name of the person at the center of the crisis or current trauma.  If you’re a cancer patient, that’s you!  So put your name in the circle.  If you’re a caregiver or friend, put the patient’s name in the center.

The next step is to draw a slightly larger circle around the first one.  In that ring, put the name of the next person closest to the situation.  It could be the patient’s partner, caregiver, sibling, or best friend.

 Repeat the process as many times as you need to.  In each larger ring, put the next closest people.  Parents and children are usually put before more distant relatives.  Intimate friends go in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones.

When you are done, you have a complaining order!

Here are the rules.  The person in the very center of the rings can say anything they want to anyone, anytime, anywhere.  They can complain and whine and moan and say “life is unfair” and “why me?” as much as they want.

Everyone else can say those things too, but here’s the key: they can only say them to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help.  Listening is often more helpful than talking, but if you do speak, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support.  If not, don’t say it!  If you want to scream or cry or complain, that’s completely fine!  It’s a perfectly normal response to having a loved one going through something difficult like cancer.  Just make sure you’re doing it to someone in a bigger ring!

Pour IN, dump OUT!

Pour in love, comfort, and support.  Dump out negativity, complaints, and discomfort.

Don’t just avoid dumping into the center circle.  Avoid dumping into any ring smaller than yours.

If you’re the one at the center of the circle, it can be really helpful to explain this to your loved ones.  Tape it on your refrigerator or on the door of your hospital room.  Explain that it’s nothing personal, but you’re going through a difficult time and need some extra love and support.

Many cancer patients have said this one simple theory — pour in, dump out — has been extremely helpful for them and their loved ones.  Hopefully it can provide a little more clarity and understanding for you and your circle of friends and family, too!