Sweet Tea & Empathy Please

Sympathy is something most people can express but empathy works better for me. What’s the difference? Well, when someone sympathises with you or your situation they tend to show pity. They can commiserate and show an understanding for what you are going through but may say things such as “Oh no. I can imagine how awful that is for you but hey, at least you’re not dead!”, which doesn’t help at all.

When someone empathises however, they connect with you because they understand and can share your feelings, maybe because they too have experience of it or even if they don’t, they might be able to say something like “OMG. I don’t know what to say. I’m just so glad you told me.”

Looking back, the people around me who helped me the most emotionally, were those who had experience of a devastating, life changing situation.

Through the workshops I’ve attended over the last few months I’ve made some new and very dear friends. Connecting with people and sharing experiences is a wonderful way of getting through a difficult time and has allowed me to show support for others on the same or very similar journey.

You don’t have to have been through a cancer diagnosis to show empathy to a cancer patient, you just need to be able to make a connection to how they are feeling. This video clip sums it up perfectly.

On the other hand, here’s what not to say…

Showing Support

I don’t know about you but I can get a bit emotional when colleagues, friends and family show their support. The video clip below is no exception.

A group of people (aka a Flash Mob) celebrate their loved ones and show support for those who have faced a cancer diagnosis by performing a surprise dance in the middle of a busy shopping centre.

What would you do to show someone they are not alone?

Goodbye 2013 Hello 2014

2014A new year message for all my fellow cancer survivors and fighters…

Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think and twice as beautiful as you ever imagined.

Wishing you all good health, good times and lots of love for the New Year x

Dealing with Change

Now I’m back at work full time its been difficult to find the time to write blog posts but when a change management communication was distributed at work, it resonated with me so much I just had to include it in the blog.

When it comes to change management it doesn’t get much bigger than a cancer diagnosis. I never for one moment imagined the impact it would have on me and how far reaching that would be either. I remember making plans for “when this is all over, lets…” but things didn’t work out that way as I hurtled through a distressing set of circumstances and corresponding range of emotions.

Apparently how we deal with a change depends on the type of people we are. I’m risk averse, I don’t like change either and I certainly don’t like things being out of my control. Not a great combination when it comes to cancer.

Some people thrive on the challenge of something new, others like myself, worry about it and can become very negative. If we feel valued and supported however during the period of change, we are more likely to adapt quickly and be more open to accept what needs to be done.

Theory suggests we go through a number of stages when faced with a big change:

  1. Shock
    The initial reaction can sometimes be shock as we fear the unknown. This stage is normally brief.
    This was back when I’d been for my scan and then had been called back immediately. Nothing had been confirmed but the radiographer simply said “This must have come as quite a shock”. What!? I thought, you haven’t told me anything! I then had to wait two weeks before the diagnosis was confirmed.
  2. Denial
    This is when we stay focused on the past and the way things used to be. Fearing the new we might continue to do things the way we always have.
    I didn’t feel any different and I certainly didn’t think what I had was terminal. It just felt like I had to go for an operation to have something mildly irritating removed, nothing more. I didn’t feel ill, didn’t think I looked ill, so how could anything really be wrong?
  3. Anger
    Denial turns to anger and we look for someone to blame for the change.
    I will probably remember this day for the rest of my life. One week post op, the results of the surgery were in. I was told that they had made a mistake and over treated me. My lymph nodes were healthy and didn’t need to be removed. My whole world caved in and I blamed the medical team for treating me like a number – someone on a conveyor belt, with no concern for the consequences of their actions.
  4. Depression
    Once we realise that change is going to happen we are at our lowest. The criticism we showed during the anger phase increases and we become fixated on the problems rather than the change.
    I slipped in to depression, turning up at the cancer centre and exclaiming “They’ve broken me, mentally!” It has taken quite a while to get through this stage and at times I slip back. I desperately wanted my old life back but thought that things could never be the same. I didn’t like “me” any more and I didn’t see how anyone else could. There were too many things that had changed, things that I had to give up or at least that’s what I thought. I was desperately trying not to drag others down with me and so would shut the world out and those I care about in a bid to save them from what was happening. I have to say that looking back on this now, although I had good intentions at heart and was convinced I was doing the right thing, it didn’t actually help me or anyone else.
  5. Acceptance
    We accept that change is happening and may even feel relief that things aren’t actually as bad as we thought.
    This is where I am right now, 6 months on, somewhere between accepting what has happened and trying to make changes to the way I live my life.
  6. Integration
    Change has taken place and we have learned to adapt and live with it.

Understanding these stages helps to identify the sort of support we need. No two people will go through the six stages at the same speed . Those that like change and see it as a challenge may go from stage 1-6 quicker than those who dislike change who can get stuck at stages 1-4 for a considerable amount of time.