Cancer Creates Empathy, But Hope Must Prevail

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After experiencing cancer, I feel a profound sense of empathy for others in tough situations, from the war in Ukraine to COVID-19.

Cancer is, without a doubt, the leading cause of stress in my life. There is no rest for the weary with this devastating disease, and I always find myself looking over my shoulder.

Is it gaining on me? What would I do if I took a turn for the worse and my quality of life were compromised? What if the physical and emotional pain overwhelms me?

Well, after an eight-year rocky road with cancer, I’ve concluded that while “the Big C” is extremely worrisome, that worry comes in fits and starts.

Mostly it happens when I face my six-month prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing, which gauges whether cancer is returning for a repeat engagement, or whether I’ll be granted another breathing spell before the next worry sprouts up like clockwork.

Fortunately, with the luxury of remission, I am often left with lots of time to worry about other things but worry has some positive consequences. It often produces an outpouring of empathy. I acutely feel the pain and suffering in others since my diagnosis.

High on my empathy list these days is the war in Ukraine, with news accounts of bombed civilian shelters and homes and shocking revelations of mass graves, leading to war crimes investigations.

My ability to empathize goes into constant overdrive, even producing terrifying nightmares in which I find myself in the war zone, suffering alongside the beleaguered Ukrainian people.

My empathy also comes into play over the nearly million Americans lost thus far in our battle against the coronavirus. Some of my fellow citizens have normalized COVID-19, but not the elderly and immune-compromised individuals like myself. I cannot shake the stark images of that field of flags near the Washington Monument marking the deaths of those succumbing to this terrible disease. It’s a simple, yet profound statement of loss and grief, and perhaps, resolve to do our part to stop the spread of the virus.

I also feel empathy for families struggling to pay their bills with the high cost of groceries, gas and rent skyrocketing into the stratosphere. Inflation is a bummer and so many people are hurting now.

And I hurt for them.

Yes, there are plenty of people with whom to empathize, but that does not go far enough. We must also let hope prevail during these trying times, both in the cancer community and beyond.

I am hopeful that our cancers will be cured, and better treatments found. I hope that the slaughter in Ukraine ceases and that the guns will fall silent. I hope that the coronavirus is blotted out once and for all, this deadly threat downgraded substantially over time. I hope that the economy recovers so people caught in its snare can breathe easily once again.

Living with cancer creates fear and stress, but there is a silver lining when we can feel empathy for others who are in dire straits. There can be purpose with our pain. No one wants pain and suffering to last forever. So, without question hope springs eternal for a better day!

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