Having Compassion for Others During Cancer Treatment

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A woman with stage 4 ovarian cancer discusses the importance of having compassion for other people, because you never know what they may be dealing with.

I didn’t want to sit by you today and was pretty irritated about it. It’s bad enough we can’t have guests in the infusion center right now, but they took that opportunity to cram more chairs in and take down the cube separators. You are old, mumbling in your sleep and crying out for the nurses. It’s upsetting on so many levels. You need help to the bathroom.

And then this voice in my head said, ever so gently, remember who you are, Ann. And I turned to look at you sleeping and was filled with compassion and love. My eyes filled with tears. How can I feel sorry for myself being here when you are older and less capable than me? What must it be like for you to be here alone and helpless? What if you were MY mother lying here suffering with some form of cancer and these harsh treatments? And with all of these extra chairs and new nurses, there are clearly more people to treat than before. The only kind of anger that should stir up is at the lack of adequate funding and research so more of us can be cured or avoid cancer altogether.

It was a powerful moment for me. As quickly as the flash of irritation came, it left in a wave of compassion. And it’s the perfect lesson for me today. It doesn’t matter where I am in life – I can’t lose sight of other people’s pain and struggles. We all have stuff. And I’m super aware that sometimes walking in my own shoes is so difficult that I forget to look outside myself at the rest of the world.

So today, I am reminded that compassion is such an important part of healing, both my own personal healing and healing our world. Was someone rude to you at the drive-thru today? Perhaps she lost her mother and still had to work to make ends meet. Did someone cut you off in traffic? Maybe he is distracted because he was leaving the hospital after seeing his sick wife.

Everyone has a story. We all have loss and pain and suffering and joy and happiness and good days and bad days. I’m glad for the voice in my head to remind me that love and compassion should be my first response, even when I might not understand.

Ann Pinyan was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2014 at the age of 51 and has been in treatment ever since. She currently writes a blog with an honest look at living with cancer: Kickin' Cancer's Ass | My Journey to Cancer-Free! (

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