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How having cancer affected my levels of empathy

Recently someone I live with had a cold, it was a REALLY bad cold. They lay on the sofa all weekend sniffing and coughing in an increasingly irritating way.

My frustration peaked periodically then when my comments became short and snappy. I was shocked at my lack of empathy towards them and was far from my usual understanding, patient and tolerant self. I didn’t like my behaviour and wondered what it was about.

Having been pregnant and then juggled a baby, toddler and all that comes with that through my first cancer treatment and then worked through the treatment of cancer number two along with running a house and caring for children I guess my empathy runs a little low about people laying around on the sofa with a cold.

I hated every single second cancer robbed from me and was determined that cancer would take as little of me as it could. This mind set drove me to push on regardless with daily tasks and crazy ideas no matter how ill I felt. My body would be screaming STOP but I couldn’t bear to stop, if I stopped cancer would get me. I was powerless in cancer and its outcome and to counteract this I looked at every area I could feel powerful and in control of and if that meant going food shopping or walking the dog then that’s what I would be doing no matter how ill I felt.

My personal tolerance for physical and emotional discomfort has been significantly raised by cancer. I now know what pure fear feels like. I now know what a body worn down by chemo feels like. I now know what cancer being cut out and burnt off feels like. By comparison a cold is nothing to me but a minor inconvenience. I know a cold will pass. I know my fear about cancer will never leave. I know my body is forever changed by the treatment for cancer. I am now free to enjoy life because less things matter now.

The down side of this is that my tolerance levels for less serious illness and day to day winging about life has been significantly reduced, the bar of my levels of empathy set far higher now. I know there are much worse things out there to live through than a cold or that the bus was late and unless someone is seriously ill I have to dig deep for empathy and resist the urge to say ‘I don’t care, I was pregnant and worked through chemo’.

Has your cancer affected your levels of empathy?


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