Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the day “February 1, 2021”

Stretching Empathy


***this was the post that I made mention of, that I had stopped in the middle of.  I am finishing this post, before continuing on with the other posts in my head.

When I first was trained as a peer counselor for cancer patients, there were two things that we were told.  The first and most obvious, we had to be done with our treatment.  But the second, and most important, we had to be “good” with any issues we may have either with treatments or survivorship.

In my class, we had an individual who was clearly struggling.  His wife had cancer.  It was apparent he was participating in the class to either find answers or support for his particular situation.  I do not know if he was actually trying to get certified or not, but it would not happen.  Before he could help anyone, he would need to get help himself.

I have been giving support to cancer patients and survivors as long as my thirty years of survivorship.  I have provided support to hundreds of patients and survivors, no situation ever the same.  But no matter who I listened to, and that is the key word, “listen,” it was important that I never gave medical advice, that I never gave false hope, and that I did not say anything that would interfere with the plan of their treatment team.

There is a reason, that you must be done with your treatments, and have your own issues resolved before taking on support of another.  Have you ever noticed, if you have ever had to deal with an oncologist, or surgeon, you rarely if ever see any emotion?  Because they cannot afford to make themselves vulnerable.  This is not to say they do not care about their patient, they most certainly do.  But in medical fields where deaths occur much more frequently than in other special practices, doctors cannot afford to get emotionally involved.

I found that out the hard way when I was assigned my first patient, a teenage girl named Jennifer, who had the same cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, that I just beat.  If you go to the “pages” tab, you can see the story that I wrote about her.  Anyway, unlike in my case, she would not survive.  I did not even have the experience of a positive outcome for a first patient.  My first patient died from the same cancer I beat.  And because I made the decision to continue longer with her counseling than what I was obligated to, my emotions were fully entrenched.  Her passing devastated me.

I had no choice but to take some time off to process not only what happened, but remind myself of my training and the things that I had learned.  If I wanted to make a difference, I could not let this happen again if I truly wanted to be there for others.  It was important for me to get back to counseling others as I felt is was the only way that I could “give back.”  Admittedly, it is not easy, not just getting to know someone, but to have complete empathy, because having been there myself, I know the many emotions others are struggling with.

I guess what prompted this, was a post that came across one of the pages that I am involved with.  A relative newbie had “announced” that she was leaving the page, because she was “not getting anything in return” for her offerings of support.  While I did not doubt her Hodgkin’s history, I did have concerns about her purpose for being on the page.

Support pages on social media are a blessing and a curse.  When you come looking for information and support, there will be plenty out there.  But when you feel “owed” something in return, I am afraid there is something else that the individual needs to deal with.  Because if you offer yourself in the support of others, you should never expect anything in return.  Those things just happen, and it is priceless.

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