According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will receive a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lifetime. Mine came five months ago, less than a year after I lost my father to the same form of cancer. While we had the same type, my father had a rarer, more aggressive form. Initially, the medical team didn’t see it likely for me to be in the same situation as my father. As testing and procedures progressed, my wife and I got the news that I, too, had a more aggressive form that was more pervasive than initially thought.
Sitting in the lonely confines of the doctor’s office, awaiting feedback on another round of test results, we listened to the grim view of what potentially lay in front of us. The results, delivered without any sense of empathy, encouragement, and hope, cut us like a knife. We left that office with an obvious sense of dread. From that moment, it was hard to shake the memories of watching my father’s decline in my mind and drawing parallels to what I might face. We decided that was our last visit to that doctor.
A few weeks later, during our initial oncology visit, we found solace in the supportive words of a new doctor while reviewing the results again. She not only provided valuable information but listened and could see my concern regarding comparing myself to my father. Her words rang like thunder, “Your cancer journey is your own journey; it’s not the same as anyone else’s.” Armed with facts and enlightenment, we left that session realistic of the situation but encouraged. I could leave my experiences with my father aside and focus on my journey. I also received an encouraging approach from the surgeon, who coordinated my medical treatment with a balance of calm, empathy, and confidence.
In the days and weeks that followed, I had a lot of time to think about those different experiences. That reflection occurred sitting alone in a darkened room with radioactive isotopes flowing through me and in the quiet of a hospital room at dawn, watching the sunrise. It also happened during a walk under the shade of trees on a hot day after hearing the glorious news that I no longer have any traceable cancer. These were all moments that offered me the opportunity to reflect.
I gained specific clarity on that walk under the shade and comfort of the leaves. I could see that the act of encouragement is like a tree. It requires strong roots that bring a sense of self-security and confidence to support the weight of someone else’s needs. It requires us to reach out like branches stretching to meet people where they are at. To encourage means to be open to embracing the fears, challenges, and worries of another to gain a sense of empathy for what they need, not what you think you should blindly offer.
It comes down to the power of our words and the motivations behind them. The quality and value of our words are how we show our support, like the leaves that provide shade and grow from the strength of a tree’s roots and branches. Done without the roots of selflessness and perspective, they can harm, tear down and divide. Done without the branches of reaching to meet people at their point of need, they are shallow and drift into the air. Done, however, with the strength of character and the outstretched arms of empathy, they can lift up, motivate and bring hope.
The Oxford Dictionary defines encouragement as the act of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. I learned about the internal value of hope from the loss of my son, which has given me strong roots. I learned the importance of external encouragement from cancer and how valuable it is to reach out to meet people at their place of need. Hopefully, my words can be your leaves for today.
- “Cancer Statistics 2022,” American Cancer Society, Inc., 2022
- “Encouragement,” def. N. 1.1. Oxford Languages, 2022
Photo credit: Rose Colored Lens Photography (me!)