Empowerment, Empathy & Understanding

Empowerment. What does it mean? At its core, empowerment enables individuals or groups to gain greater control over their lives, making decisions that positively affect their well-being.

But for someone whose well-being is already compromised, such as a cancer patient, what can be done to enable empowerment? This is a big question that I don’t have all the answers to. What I can share, however, is my experience of trying to empower a family member during their cancer journey and the forms that it took.

Empowerment via Empathy

As a family member of someone with cancer, one of the best ways I found to empower was through empathetic listening. By truly listening and trying to understand our loved one’s experiences, we can offer them the support and encouragement they need to get through this difficult time. This can range from celebrating the smallest of wins, like tiny pieces of good news from tests or medical professionals, to understanding what the day to day experience of living with cancer is actually like. And the day to day is not fun. I’m certain no one will say it is a time of their lives they’d like to repeat. So empowering our loved ones can mean agreeing that the situation sucks and allowing them to be negative.

The fine balance of empowerment sits between these two polar situations: celebrating everything we can to insert some color and positivity in the bleak landscape that is a cancer diagnosis AND understanding that these positive moments are just that–moments. The day to day is tough, so why try to see everything through rose-tinted glasses? I've learned that this doesn't help the patient or those around them.

Empathetic Acknowledgement

If we’re truly being empathetic with our loved ones, it means we’re putting ourselves in their shoes, acknowledging their pain and fears, and validating their emotions. This can help to feel seen and heard, which in turn can give the strength and confidence to face challenges head-on. I’m not saying empathy will cure everything. Of course, it won't. But for me, this was something that helped to empower my mom during her cancer journey.

Ultimately, practicing empathetic listening and showing up for our loved ones with cancer, can empower them to persevere through this challenging journey knowing that someone is hearing and understanding them and their situation.

And that leads to acknowledgment. As I learned more about the reality of living with cancer, I started to acknowledge the reality of what being diagnosed with bladder cancer is actually like. This disease and the life-changing operations and treatment plans that follow is an intense rollercoaster that you want to get off but can’t. It is not fun. It's awful. It's unbearable. It is just plain downright f***g s**tty. Acknowledging this can be a form of empowerment. No this doesn't help someone to make decisions that positively affect their well-being. Instead, this can help someone to feel a little more in control, less alone, and understood.

To put it very bluntly, acknowledging the good and bad is the only way to empower a patient. Otherwise, if we’re just focusing on the positive, it's just bullshit, sunshine, and lies - none of which helps.

A True Understanding

Understanding that empowerment is a spectrum - from acknowledgment of crappy situations to laughing about the funny things that happen. Life is always up and down. And if not, it would be boring. To truly provide empowerment, one just needs to be there to try to understand. Acknowledge that there will be good, bad, and very bad days, and know that that's life, that's a cancer diagnosis. That’s what we’re dealing with so let's make the best of it, even if that means celebrating the tiny wins or agreeing that life is s**t sometimes.

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