A few weeks ago, I reconnected with a high school buddy on Facebook. I was having an I’m exhausted by all of this kind of day and his thoughtful words were precisely what I needed to read at that moment. Towards the end of his message he wrote “I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been (referring to my cancer), and it certainly puts things into perspective.” Right or wrong, my illness has become the benchmark by which I measure many of my personal challenges. I repeat to myself often, if I can get through cancer, I can get through anything. I believe perspective and empathy go hand in hand and both have become a tremendous source of power for me, especially when we are at a time of major protesting and a pandemic.
In advance of my 2012 mega surgery, I met with one of two reconstruction doctors who perform this procedure. Turns out, another person was having a similar surgery as me on the same day at the same time. Curious, I asked my doctor how it’s decided which doctor operates on which patient. His response blew my mind, “I only operate on the complicated cases; I will be operating on the other patient.” Wow!!! I finally found the one man on the entire planet who says I’m not complicated. YOU HAVE NO IDEA! But holy cow…if my 11-hour surgery, having half my tongue removed and rebuilt with my forearm, is less complicated, than what the heck is the other person going through. Instantly, this complete calm washed over me, and I instinctively knew I was going to be okay. As the empathy for this fellow patient swelled inside me, all my worries shifted, and I felt more concern for this complete, stranger than I did myself. To this day, I pray often about this individual.
As a survivor, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had a conversation with a friend or an acquaintance venting about something, and I witness the bulb light up above their head stopping them mid-sentence. In a split second, I recognize in their eyes exactly what they’re thinking, “Who am I to complain considering what happened to her.” Apologetically and with a hint of embarrassment, they say to me, “I know this doesn’t compare to what you went through.” For starters, pleeeease stop saying this.” I truly appreciate the sensitivity, and I know the comment comes from a good place, but this is not a competition of who has it better or worse; easy or complicated. I might not be your go-to gal if you’re whining about a hang nail, but anything else you feel like grumbling about, I’m all ears and all heart.
EVERYONE gets a turn on the wheel of misfortune! Our struggles are OUR struggles. Our suffering is OUR suffering. Whether it’s the current challenge of civil unrest and COVID-19, or perhaps it’s illness, taking care of sick children or aging parents, financial or relationship problems, lost job or maybe the daily grind is getting the best of you. We might not be in each other’s shoes, but how wonderful if we could at least imagine what they feel like, even a little. So next time we meet, my friend, let the complaining commence because in a strange comforting way, your problems not only whisk me out of my own head space, but they are a nostalgic taste of the life I had before cancer.
There is a beautiful and timely post circulating on Facebook about respect and kindness as some of us crawl our way out of quarantine while other’s sprint. The post ends “Don’t judge fellow human beings because you’re not in their story. We all are in different mental states than we were months ago. So, remember, to be kind.” Let’s keep our sensitivity radars up and remember a healthy dose of perspective and empathy can go a long way. I DYP – Discovering My Power, My Way with Perspective and Empathy. Could the Power of Perspective and Empathy work for you?
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