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Not Always About Our Own Journeys

I finished updating my friend on how I was dealing with my latest side-effects. Then I turned and asked, “So how are you feeling?” My friend responded, “You just told me how badly you are itching all over and how if you are really lucky, maybe you’ll get another five or ten years… I feel stupid talking about my problems.”

Our struggles are unique

I looked my friend in the eye and said, “But what you are going through seems so hard…” And it was true — in many ways, much more difficult and complex than my own trials and tribulations. Part of the problem with being an advanced lung cancer patient — perhaps exacerbated because I refuse to sugar-coat much regarding the lack of a cure after years of people simply assuming I was “all better” just because I looked okay — is that it makes it difficult for others to open up and share their own struggles.

And I hate it when people minimize their own experience just because someone else might have it harder. After all, emotional and physical difficulties are, at least on some level, subjective to the person experiencing them. If one person is having a rough time, he or she is still having a rough time regardless of whatever the next person is dealing with. Just because I have been enduring some pretty specific side-effects for my cancer treatment does not mean I lack compassion or empathy for the issues other people face.

We all experience some form trauma

Because life is hard. And it is terribly difficult to get far along without being damaged in some way. When we experience any level of trauma, it is all too easy to feel like what we are going through is the worst thing in the world. I have seen this in the behavior of the relatively young and uninitiated: a broken nail, a blemish on the face, a bad grade.

As age brings experience, those things of small consequence become things of small consequence. But we are always limited by our experience, and what we feel may be the worst thing very well may be the worst thing — at least that we have encountered or can understand. And to some degree, we should all be allowed to have our feelings on whatever version of the worst thing we are going through.

A little compassion goes a long way

If I have learned anything along the path of my cancer journey, it is that a little compassion goes a long way. Spending time listening to the plights of others may not change my own, but it allows me the privilege of validating their stories and sharing their struggles. Being able to put aside my own issues — which clearly are not going anywhere — allows me to be a friend or a counselor or just a concerned neighbor for a while instead of “that cancer patient” I normally am.

Besides, talking about myself all day long gets old after a while. Sometimes, to lead a healthy life, it cannot be all about my own journey all of the time.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.