Cancer Boosted My Empathy, But Anger Is Starting to Rear Its Head

After cancer, I now have more empathy for people going through health crises, though when I see others posting inspirational stories on social media, I can’t help but to wonder how much strife they have actually been through.

Dating back since cancer entered the picture in 2016, I’ve noticed my feelings towards the disease and empathy levels towards others have evolved.

I’ve had a pretty rough go— being diagnosed with a rare bone cancer at 30 years old, then putting in a year of aggressive chemo and surgeries only to watch the cancer spread from my right femur to both lungs and then to my left hip. There’ve been about five recurrences and at least a handful of surgeries. It reached the point where doctors essentially ran out of answers and told me I had a less than 10% survival rate.

Thankfully, my situation has improved.

Oddly, during treatment I don’t recall being angry or complaining (much). Maybe it was acceptance or maybe I felt like there wasn’t time for that. I was too busy doing whatever I could to overcome each wave of attacks.

It’s only been as I grapple with life after cancer and trying to find my place in the world again where anger and jealousy have risen to the surface. Well, I guess it depends on the situation. For example, friends, family and acquaintances have followed my situation on social media and so naturally when people find themselves dealing with health scares, they’ve reached out.

In these situations, I notice my empathy and patience are extremely high. I’m conscious about tapping back into all I’ve learned as a cancer patient about how I’d like to receive support and find the balance between sharing advice while offering a listening ear or just being a calming presence. The same loving empathy applies for cancer fighter friends who’ve I’ve met or who have come to me in a more vulnerable place, looking to connect with someone else who gets it. 

But for some reason, when I run across influencer types on social media who are making their inspirational videos and posts, and I see all the love and admiration, that tends to trigger me. I find myself comparing our situations, wondering if they struggled as much as I did, and how much damage their life sustained.

In my head, the rational side of me recognizes this behavior as shameful and toxic and not at all my best self. But we’re talking a primal, purely emotional comparative instinct that seems to kick in.

Maybe it’s the fear that when all else has been stripped away, there is comfort in the notion that I at least have the inspirational cancer card to fall back on— and that I feel threatened watching others cramp my territory. Or worse, I feel resentful if their situation comes off as not worthy of all the acclaim. Again, the rational side of me reminds me that health complications, no matter what type or how serious, are traumatic, and I have no idea what else is going on in other people’s lives or what they’re dealing with behind closed doors. But my feelings are my feelings…

Maybe this is just anger finally rearing its head. I also find myself frustrated at times while getting back in the real world because other healthy people haven’t had to deal with the game-changing catastrophe that is cancer.

Thankfully, this isn’t an all-the-time thing. For the most part I do my best to practice gratitude (and recognize I am so lucky compared to countless others around the world), but you know, it’s hard not to get caught up in the comparison game and I’m only human.

One of my goals this year has been to accept the state of transition I am in now and keep my head down, stay in my own lane. I need to not get so caught up in what’s going on around me.

Lately, my wife and I have had healthy conversations and made efforts working on both short- and long-term goals towards rebuilding our life. That tends to make me feel better— offering a desperately missed sense of control in life and working towards a greater future; going on the offense instead of constantly playing defense.

In the meantime, while I work on new dreams moving forward, I’ve also been writing a guidebook about my cancer journey because it’s important to me that I pass along the knowledge and tips I’ve gained to cancer fighters in need. I’ll never forget how scared and helpless I felt when doctors passed along such a terrifying prognosis and want to make sure I provide the type of resource that didn’t exist when I needed it most.

My empathy will always remain high for anyone in that situation.

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