I don’t know where I’d rate on a scale for compassion. Sometimes, I’m so caught up in my own world and family that I don’t see other peoples’ hurt. I wish I did, and I’m working on it. As I went through my cancer battle and appreciated everyone’s kindness, I was exposed to more people in pain than ever before. I made a leap in compassion through my breast cancer journey.
Being compassionate first takes recognition of another person’s suffering. Beyond awareness, you should attempt to understand it at least at a basic level. You can feel compassion and then you can act compassionately, the full expression of the emotion.
Pain can be caused by many events, characteristics, and conditions in life. Having a horrible disease is just one of them, but it’s my frame of reference. During my journey, I met quite a few people, mostly women, with cancer. Some I met in the treatment room and many through a nonprofit organization, Compassion That Compels. In addition to meeting people with cancer, I’d also found out about others I already knew that had experienced the disease.
Here’s a little story to show how my sense of recognition came awake. A year or so ago, Jeff and I stopped to eat at a local restaurant in a little town. We enjoy doing this. A mother and older teenage daughter came in and sat at the table next to us. You could do that in those days! The girl wore a headscarf like what I had worn. The unaware, old Denise would have seen someone with a headscarf or bald head and thought, why are they making that awful fashion statement? On that day, I recognized someone in treatment.
Recognition of suffering is good, but not enough for compassion. You must try to understand and feel something for the person. Concerning the girl in the scarf, all I could think of was how terrible it was for her to go through cancer so young. The disease, treatments, hair loss, and whatever else she was experiencing. My heart hurt for her and her mother, who I’m sure shared in the pain.
Real compassion involves action. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture as it was with CTC when we delivered wonderful gifts and prayers to women in treatment. The restaurant scene was a small gesture moment. I decided to simply be friendly. Fortunately, Jeff was friendly that day, too (wink wink). We smiled and talked to our table neighbors, and the mother mentioned about her daughter’s cancer. I told her that I recognized the signs, and I talked to the girl about how I’d been through breast cancer and was doing well. I said positive things about her life ahead to try to cheer her heart.
I have more stories, such as talking to an older couple while she was getting treatment. He got called away, and she broke down, telling me that he had terminal cancer and wouldn’t live long. I sat for an extra time after my treatment to listen to her until he returned. It was 30 minutes of my life with a woman who grasped my hand and desperately needed it.
Any of us can practice compassion. Instead of judging someone, as is a bad habit of mine, consider what might be going on with them. Even if you’re going through the disease, you can develop compassion and show it to others. Look for moments to support someone else, to show a smile, talk with the person, or to help them in a big way. Compassion will lighten your heart and make you feel love in a new way.
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