“I know just how you feel”…

The likely change in one’s daily routine as just one outcome of a cancer diagnosis, will almost certainly impinge on working, domestic and recreational daily routine. Yet it is so important to bear in mind that human adaptability to change inbred, is the reason why – irrespective of the nature and enormity of the challenge of change which is being imposed e.g. earthquake, fire, flood, conflict, accident and illness etc.- life still goes on and not just for those who are unaffected. Indeed, in countless numbers of instances, right up to this present day, we have all witnessed and continue to witness (via daily contact with others and the media) heroic and heart-warming evidence of those who, in all manner of ways, are winning their own personal battles, earning the respect and admiration of those who are witness to such courage and perseverance. .

One very important first point requiring directly to be made at this juncture, to all who are in daily contact with patients and their family members – in whatever capacity – concerns the need to strenuously avoid that all too common and hackneyed response, i.e. “I know just how you feel”. How, indeed, can we? Even where one may have undergone (or be undergoing) some comparable experience, “I know how it was (is) for me”, is as far as anyone can go. Yet, even that is not strictly in accordance with fact since, if I “did (do) know”, i.e. as I did at the time of its occurrence in all its fullness, I will be unlikely to have progressed beyond that point, myself. Also, the basic need for sensitivity at such times should inform us that to claim to “understand” another’s predicament in this way is both inaccurate and, at times, even mildly offensive.

Of course, under any kind of superficially similar circumstances or conditions, there certainly does exist an overall similarity to our responses given such interaction, e.g. cultural, societal, genetic, and familial. Also, it is the case that every one of us is influenced and affected in our responses – of whatever nature – by the uniqueness of self and by the “nature/nurture contribution to personal development and eventual outcome.  However, we simply cannot move beyond that point and any claim to “know”, i.e. to intimately perceive and appreciate our fellow man feelings at any given time is clearly erroneous.

Forgive me if I appear to have laboured the point, but truly, I have over the years, witnessed the infliction of much unnecessary hurt and sadly, not infrequently from otherwise kind and genuinely kind individuals, who are seeking only to support and encourage. On the other hand, we have to begin somewhere and at its best, the most likely and effective starting point, is that genuine kind of interest, concern and desire to sensitively contribute to the well-being of others. Such an approach is open to all and for many has provided that initial inspiration and motivation toward a career in one of the caring professions.

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