Archives for posts with tag: compassion

Can you imagine if people said everything on their minds? It is believed that there was a time in human history when this was the case. However, I don’t think we said a whole lot back then, either. At some point, human brains became developed to a sufficient extent that the motor cortex was able to suppress the muscles involved in speech so that we could have what we now refer to as thoughts. (Did you know that researchers have put tiny measurement devices on speech muscles and that they are able to detect movements, not discernible to the naked eye, while people are thinking? This fascinates me to no end.) Once we were capable of thought, we gained an important level of privacy and capacity for introspection.

We also gained significantly in the capacity to tell lies. Lies to avoid punishment, lies to seize power and dominate, lies to survive, lies to protect the feelings of others, lies for attention, and lies to self enhance. All of us have told lies, sometimes out of politeness but other times for very unhealthy reasons. I consider myself one of the most honest people that I know but even I have told unhealthy lies.

Right now we are surrounded by bald-faced liars on the national stage. It has become popular among a segment of our politicians to tell a lie after lie and not even pretend to be telling the truth. If the lie is repeated enough and has the “zing” factor or stirs up enough hate, it becomes truth. I find this incredibly sad, frustrating, and frankly, terrifying.

I abhor dishonesty that hurts people, including the unhealthy lies we tell ourselves. Yesterday, a story broke in my neighborhood newspaper citing “reliable sources” that a young women who lives in my community and who has been an extremely hard working fund-raiser for the Komen Foundation, has admitted (to the reliable sources) that she faked her stage 4 breast cancer.  I do not know her but I know some of her friends and she is well known in the community. I am not printing her name here because 1) the story has not been confirmed (I believe it will be national soon enough), 2) if true, she is someone with an extremely pathological need for attention, among other issues, and I will not feed that, 3) if true, a public shaming will not treat her mental illness, and 4) if false, oh, that would just be horrible for her.

If this is true, she has committed fraud and has done the unconscionable, over and over. Her alleged deeds cannot be undone by the amount of charity money that she has raised. People who fake cancer, especially those with a high profile such as hers, wear away at the trust of the very people we need to support each other. They encourage suspicion and cynicism.

Anger, outrage, hurt, sadness, grief, you name it. All of these emotions are justified. I have read some comments on the news story that have given me pause, however, most notably a suggestion that the only right thing for her to do would be to “commit suicide”. There were other comments by people who know her, people who even participated in supporting her at a very high degree. These were comments expressing shock and disbelief as well as the inconsistency between the alleged acts and their experience of this person. These comments contained a great deal of hurt but they also contained compassion.

I was more impressed by this compassion than I was with the hateful comments since comment threads are the convention sites for people to spout hatred. None of these folks were saying, “We should have compassion and she should not be held accountable.”  They also weren’t saying, “This is understandable and excusable.”

I have a lot of gratitude when I am able to function from a position of compassion. When the compassion is directed toward someone who has wronged me, it helps me operate more effectively and I am better able to maintain my own priorities, priorities of effectiveness, self-respect, and/or maintaining a relationship. The highest priority can be different for a given situation.

Compassion is active rather than passive. It is extremely powerful and I strive for more each day.

During one of my recent walks, I was thinking about a conversation I’d had with a friend a few months ago. The friend had broken off a relationship with someone he’d previously known through the community for almost 20 years. He was surprised by how complicated her life was beneath the surface and a number of very unhealthy choices that she’d made, those that people make who have an extraordinary amount of pain and suffering, with which they are not dealing well. I told him, “I see lots of families in my practice who I imagine appear very different to people who have known them for years. You just don’t know what is going on in people’s lives.”

I was thinking about this, about the lives we lead on the inside that don’t match our outsides. We just don’t know what people are going through. Sure, some people wear their pain on the outside because they cannot contain it; some wear it like a badge of honor. But many of us go along with our daily lives carrying heavy burdens. I thought about the interactions I have with people everyday and my own natural tendency to assume that people are similar to me. Given that I am an empathetic person and a trained mental healthcare provider, I can quickly shift this set point but there are many interactions we have in our own lives that are so short that it is difficult to do this.  And even still, sometimes we just don’t know.

In my musings, I reminded myself of how important it is to be kind and to give people the benefit of the doubt. I am also mindful that to do so is also better for my health. Maybe the driver who cut me off really is an asshole? Is it really good for me to hold onto that thought and the anger that accompanies it?

By then I had arrived at my neighborhood coffee shop, Bird on a Wire. Elton John’s, Rocket Man, was playing. Angel, who was making my latte, looked up at me and said quietly, “This song reminds me of my dad.” Angel is a young man, still in his twenties. Nonetheless, I asked, “Is your dad still living?” “No”, he responded, still quietly. I asked a couple of questions and learned that Angel’s father died 6 months ago within a week of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Angel is a kind and gentle person with a spritely sense of humor. He is one of those people who exudes kindness. He loves community and will go out of his way to not only learn the names of the customers, but to introduce them to one another. Angel has made many lattes for me in the past six months. I had no idea.

He said, “I’m sorry.” “Angel, there’s no need to be sorry. That is something I would want to know.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

I grabbed his hand and squeezed it.

“Angel, people care for one another. That’s a very good thing.”

A beautiful lion was killed in Zimbabwe by a rich American, who paid $55,000 to do so. There has been a great deal of outrage about this. There has been a great deal of compassion expressed toward a rare and beautiful animal who was killed just so that a human being could use his power to kill and dominate.

There have also been people upset by how much compassion and outrage have been spent on this one lion in contrast to relatively less so about violence and racism in our own country especially toward African Americans.

I was upset by all of these events, quite frankly. I actually saw them as being part of the same problem, the problem of using might to make right, the corrupting power of excessive power, and domination for domination sake as it happens at all levels of culture.

I understand why people are angry that violence against oppressed groups of humans is not creating similar outrage. I do wonder, however, if in giving people negative feedback for expressing righteous indignation and compassion is somehow discouraging compassionate action in general.

If I were in a crowd of people and saw a small child in front of me fall down, I would express sympathy and try to help, if needed. I would not scan the crowd to see if there were a person or situation more deserving of kindness and compassion. And I don’t think that by exercising a small act of compassion on perhaps a lesser problem, that I would somehow run out of compassion. I also wonder if these small gestures, to address small problems right in front of our eyes, right now, and with swift action, may buffer in some way against the passivity and inaction that can result with being overwhelmed by the enormity of the BIG PROBLEMS.

I find that acts compassion, offered in the moment, can add a bit of fuel to my emotional gas tank rather than depleting me. There are a lot of messages out there that treat compassion as a rare, easily depleted commodity. Even in the breast cancer community, there is a sense of having to have the worst case situation in order to exercise compassion toward oneself. Meanwhile, we invalidate ourselves and others over and over, like there is no limit.

Compassion doesn’t have to be a big game.

In my work as a psychologist, I work with children and teens who have disorders considered to be primarily genetic in cause. Environmental factors play a role as well, but according to our current understanding, they are mainly factors that maintain or exacerbate symptoms as well as the pervasiveness and persistence of the resulting impairment in carrying out life’s activities and responsibilities.

About 90% of my patients have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the primary treatment for which are stimulant medications, which can make an enormous positive difference in an individual who is responsibly diagnosed and treated. However, even with medication, ADHD can make what we typically see as moral and responsible decisions much harder to make. Environmental supports from parents, teachers, and other professionals can help and as children grow into adolescence, individual psychotherapy can also be useful in helping an individual who has trouble internalizing rules that are good in the long run but not salient right now and to use strategies to promote life skills and success. Nonetheless, based on current longitudinal evidence, individuals with ADHD, even treated ADHD, have a much higher rate of high school drop out, only a 5% college completion rate, and a higher rate of accidental death as well as suicidality, among many scary possible outcomes.

This is why these kids, teens, and young adults are the “it takes a village” kind of people. Actually, I believe that we all belong to the village and as social animals, we rely on one another and impact one another for good, for ill, or for nil. But these individuals are particularly vulnerable. They do not tend to be resilient. They need particular parenting and educational strategies that are often inconsistently or not available. They need effective healthcare that is often in short supply.

I consider myself to have been very fortunate for many aspects of my life that just happened to me. I inherited a strong mind, a basically happy personality, grew up in a loving family, went to good schools, and had my basic needs for shelter, food, and belonging more than amply met. I take responsibility for cultivating these gifts very seriously but I don’t for a minute take responsibility for having receiving this gifts in the first place. I got very lucky and have made very good use of what I have.

Consequently, I have a great deal of love and compassion for the individuals I see, even the ones who are honestly, not very likable. Some of them are not even very nice. Sometimes they are very likeable, nice most of the time, but do really impulsive awful things. A common characteristic of many, but not all, individuals is a lack of consistent self-awareness and a very difficult time connecting their actions to negative consequences. This is a neurological issue and it results in difficulties taking responsibility. It is made worse in that when they are aware of short-comings or consequences, they often respond with very harsh judgement of themselves. This lack of self-compassion makes it harder to own up to personal responsibility. All of this is compounded with the fact that medication often makes a big positive difference because it fuels the belief that control is external.

A common way of framing this tension is by saying, “It is understandable that x, y, or z is really hard for you but it is not an excuse. You are still responsible for your decisions and behaviors. We realize it is hard and that is why we are all part of your team to support you. But you are part of the team, too.”

Yesterday, another heinous racist hate crime, an act of terrorism against African Americans was committed in our country. Many of us are angry, grief-stricken, and overwhelmed with sadness and helplessness. We are trying to make sense of this.

I think we need to stop trying to make sense of it, at least in the usual way that we do. The easiest way to explain something horrible is to put it under someone’s control and the easiest way to do that is by laying blame at a particular person. Another easy way to deal with these kind of events is to distance ourselves from them, the “I am not that” approach. Another way we can deal with this is to feel really sad, angry, and anxious for a day or two, or even a week, and then move on to the next horrible news story, further cultivating cynicism and passivity.

It is understandable to feel overwhelmed by this, to be enraged, to feel impotent, to wring our hands in perpetuity. It is even understandable to feel paralyzing and unproductive self-recriminations about the ways that we have acted unkindly to others. It is understandable to criticize the behaviors of others, to join with others in demonizing people we don’t know who have done wrong things; with social media, we join in with the professional media in shaming people in a very intense and protracted way. It has become brutal in a way that makes me fear for our culture. The stockades of the Middle Ages come to mind. Stoning. Throwing acid in a woman’s face.

These are actions that understandably fill our need for agency at times when we can think of nothing else to do. I have participated in these public shame-fests. I have participated in cynicism in the place of effective action. I have participated in judgment that is inconsistent with compassion toward myself or toward others. I have participated in racism, some of which I am aware, and likely some that I have done without self-awareness.

I believe that I am a good person in the way that most people use the term “good person”. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t done harmful things to myself or others. It doesn’t mean that I have not contributed to a hateful culture either through action or inaction, the latter because I was either “busy” or clueless.

As a psychologist, it is understandable for me to see yesterday’s terrorism as a mental puzzle to solve. But none of these understandable beliefs, actions, or conditions are an excuse for not taking my own portion of personal responsibility for being a part of a culture that can be hateful, cynical, passive, selfish, violent, and oppressive.

I am not responsible for the whole problem but I can take responsibility for my contributions to it. These are the steps I have decided to take:

1) I do not consider myself to be a racist person as a trait. However, I accept that as a human being, aggression and dominance are part of me and that I am not immune to the socializing impact of institutional racism. I accept that I can be a good person and person who has done racist things.

2) I accept that I have benefited from institutionalized racism due to the privilege afforded members of a dominant race

3) I will exercise self-compassion despite my moral and ethical failings.

4) I will work to be less judgmental, of people I know and of people I don’t know.  In terms of social media, this means objective criticism of ideas or behaviors but not of people and that said criticism needs to fuel a positive purpose.

5) I will work to help children and families be healthy.

6) I will work to maintain my own mental health.

7) I will work to treat cynicism as understandable, but as being incompatible with compassion and effective change, nonetheless.

8) I will work to promote unity instead of division in my culture.

9) I will work to elect individuals who promote unity and fairness instead of division.

10) I try to listen to others with different viewpoints and life experiences with an open mind.

11) I will accept that complexity is common in the very situations during which I feel the urge to simplify to make myself feel less overwhelmed.

12) I will expect myself, despite my best efforts, to fail from time to time. I will work at these times, to keep trying.

I may be wrong in my arguments, in my beliefs, and my actions. That does not make me a bad person. My imperfection and the limitations of my own mind to understand all of this is understandable. But it doesn’t take me off the hook.

It is understandable but it is not an excuse.

Stop making sense.

Start making change for the better.

Lisa Bonchek Adams died over the weekend, at age 45. This is a repost of the letter I wrote to the Guardian, following the publication of an online article about whether it is appropriate or ethical for people with stage IV cancer to use social media to communicate about their illness. Lisa was called out as an example in this article.

I was not a personal friend of Lisa’s but I am very thankful to her for her advocacy. I am very sad about her death and I hope for healthy healing for her friends and family. It will likely be a very long process of grief, especially for her three young children. My hope is that her advocacy and the meaning that it added to her life, will also provide a positive touchstone for them.

My letter, dated 1/12/14,  follows.

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to Emma Keller’s article, which was published by you on 1/8/2014. The author used Lisa Bonchek Adams, who uses social media to communicate about her life with stage IV breast cancer, as an example of a possible unethical use of social media. I am angry about the journalist’s position as well as how the article stimulated a number of negative comments toward someone who needs no more negativity in her life. I have many objections to this piece and I will delineate a few of them here.

First, I believe in freedom of speech. I also believe in personal and professional responsibility. With all of the corruption and violence in the world, why target a mother of three with stage IV breast cancer, just for using social media to communicate about her experience with a horrible disease? This tact makes no sense at all to me.

I object to the characterization of Ms. Adams’ communication as “TMI”. Journalists cover natural disasters all of the time. They cover earthquakes, famine, hurricanes, and more.  The photos and the written stories describe the devastation that people suffer. They describe the resilience and the heroism. Although not everyone is comfortable with the sadness of these stories, the stories are sympathetic and not considered TMI. Cancer is a kind of natural disaster. It is a disease that ravages and impacts countless numbers of people. Is it TMI because Ms. Adams is reporting on herself instead of being interviewed and photographed by “proper” journalists? If a hurricane survivor decided to get support and communicate about his/her experiences in dealing with a natural disaster, would we call this TMI? Would we as fellow human beings make so many negative comments about this person? I think not.

As a psychologist, I understand that distancing ourselves from an illness that can strike anyone, especially a young mother of three children, is a way we deal with the realities we don’t want to consider. They are too close. We can’t think about potential personal disaster every second of every day and function as healthy people. But it is also true that we can’t constantly deny the possibility of disaster and be healthy people. We have to incorporate potential malady into our lives. Understanding and accepting that bad things happen to good people is a building block of compassion. Without it, we let our own fear lead to unfairly assigning negative qualities to people, who are ill through no fault of their own, and doing their very best to manage under truly difficult circumstances.

As a breast cancer survivor, I understand how cancer has changed my life and my relationship with the outside world. I don’t know why I got breast cancer. I am a responsible person, a loving wife and mother, and a professional dedicated to improving the lives of children. I don’t know that I will have a recurrence. I am doing my best to live a healthy life but there is no guarantee that cancer, some other disease, violence, or an accident will end my life. I could say that it’s not fair that I got breast cancer and have had to endure its treatment, which even in this day and age, is brutal. Breast cancer, like a hurricane, is not fair. It is a natural disaster. People afflicted deserve compassion. We live with cancer and its threats in one way or another, every day.

I am also an active blogger about my own breast cancer experience. In doing so, I have enriched my life immeasurably in having made connections with wonderful people such as Ms. Adams. Having cancer is very isolating. It creates a juxtaposition of grief with a deep appreciation of the gift of life, which many people don’t understand. And there are aspects of breast cancer that make it particularly isolating. The breast cancer social media community is a very powerful network of women and men. I have drawn strength through the true friendships that I have made as well as the support of an amazing group of people, who live all over the world.

We will all die. Most of us do not know precisely when or how this will occur. People with stage IV cancer know that they are likely relatively near the end of their lives and that further they are likely to die from cancer. So many people with terminal disease spend their last years in isolation, even if when they are still able to work and carry out many daily responsibilities. Many of them don’t even “look sick” until much later in their disease progression. But their lives can be lonely and arduous. Social media can serve as a way for people to connect with others who understand. I have friends with stage IV breast cancer. I don’t know how much longer they will live or how much longer I will live. But I know that I will stay with them even through the cybersphere until our dying days. I so appreciate learning how to be a better friend to someone who is losing abilities while respecting their humanity and resilience. It is scary to know that I will likely lose more friends than I would have as a function of being part of the breast cancer community. But it is worse to think of us not having each other; there is real joy, love, and shared grief over the Internet. I consider it an honor to be trusted as a friend and to be relied upon to be there during the darkest times.

There are a lot of problems with our electronic age. Many products aimed at children, in particular, are harmful. There is nothing “virtual” about the breast cancer community. It is very real. Lisa Bonchek Adams is a real woman with real connections. This community is one of the very best and real things about our virtual age.

Thank you for your kind attention to my concerns.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth P. MacKenzie, Ph.D.

You may have heard this. A complaint about one’s life is followed by the statement, often expressed apologetically, “Well, that’s a first world problem.”

I realize that the intention of the phrase is to provide perspective, to encourage people to count their blessings and further, to appreciate the poverty and unhealthy living conditions that are typical for people who live in poor countries.

I want to let you in on a secret that I have told no one until now. I strongly dislike that expression.

Perhaps for many of you, it helps you gain perspective, a reality check combined with a big dose of empathy.

To me, it sounds like an invalidation of one’s own thoughts and feelings and a kind of intended short cut from point A, being distressed to point B, feeling calm.

I know for me, this kind of short cut doesn’t work. I tried invalidating my feelings for years. “You shouldn’t feel, angry” I would tell myself. “You shouldn’t feel sad.” “Stop feeling guilty. You are always beating yourself up.”

By not allowing myself to feel what I felt, I found that it took me a great deal of time and energy to calm myself down. And I remember a number of years when my normal state was one of a roiling anxiety in my gut and in my brain. My twelve years of chronic neck pain happened during this period of time as did my two episodes of depression.

It also didn’t make me feel any better about other people. It wasn’t like I wasn’t a nice person or that I was not kind but it took a great deal of work. Sometimes, kindness and compassion would just flow from my being but lots of the time, it didn’t. I had to at least a little digging. And then because I was anxious, I would sometimes worry that I hadn’t done the kindness or compassion “right”.

This is the way I feel about the “first world problems” expression.  I don’t deserve to be angry, annoyed, sad, worried, anxious, etc because I live in a wealthy country.

Feelings don’t have to be deserved. Feelings just are. We have them. They happen.

Stress can make our brain misinterpret situations; it can get biased toward interpreting the world in a negative way, being on the alert to find threats to our safety such as rejection and danger. Stress and anxiety can also impair our brain’s ability to differentiate between meaningful and trivial threats.

First world life is fast-paced, over-saturated with information, competitive, and demanding. In other words, it provides genuine stress. And that stress can produce feelings that we think we “shouldn’t” have.

And aside from stress, people feel stuff. We just do.  For myself I know that if I am mindful of my distressing feelings, they lose power over me. And when I validate my patients’ parents’ stress and frustration with a basic problem such as potty training, they can stop feeling stuck and ridiculous in their feelings of powerlessness as a parent.

I live in the first world and I enjoy its benefits unlike many in my country who live in poverty and unhealthy conditions. I am no more important than people who live in the rest of the world. However, I am not less important, either. When I feel happy and calm, I find it easiest to be charitable and compassionate. Being happy is not the same as having things. However, for me, it frees time for me to exercise my good will rather than perpetually questioning the validity of my petty irritations, fears, and sadness.

When I was an advanced graduate student, I helped teach new graduate students how to do standardized testing and write assessment reports. One type of test that clinical psychologists often give is an intelligence test. Now there’s no end all, be all measure of intelligence but they are useful. Often the students would chat excitedly about a child they’d just tested and describe the child as “really bright!”. This was prior to scoring the test and on several occasions, the child ended up with the numbers not matching the student’s assessment. Typically, what they really meant was that the child was sweet, hardworking, and happy. We have a habit of making intelligence equivalent to being “good”. This is a particular issue for  bright and highly educated people.

Also in graduate school, I remember having a heated argument with one of my classmates and her husband. The argument was prompted by my remarking about how damaging and insidious I thought the stereotype that Southerners in the U.S. are less intelligent. To my surprise they responded, “But Southerners ARE stupid!”

People, I’ve met a lot of highly intelligent people in my life. She was one of the smartest people I’ve ever encountered. Her husband was smart, too. I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of their mouths!

It would still be awful but perhaps slightly more understandable if they’d never met a southerner in their lives. However, we were all going to school in the South. Not to mention the fact that our southern clinical psychology Ph.D. program was and still is one of the very best in the country.

They had explanations. “It’s because southern schools are terrible.” That argument made me crazy because even assuming that it is true, intelligence and education are not the same thing and anyone in a clinical psychology program should know that because it is a basic distinction that is covered in any introductory assessment course.

A number of our classmates were southerners. I said, “Well, what about x, y, and z.” Somehow they didn’t count because they didn’t have southern accents. Well one of our classmates did, Penny, and she was and is a brilliant person. “What about Penny?” The reply was, “She doesn’t count. She’s not a southerner. She’s from Appalachia.”

People, that is a terrible argument. She was also the daughter of a coal miner and the only one from her community to graduate from college. She was from one of the poorest areas in the country.

I could go on and on about the logical inconsistencies but I won’t. They were really smart people who considered themselves to be kind people who were going out of their way to make irrational ridiculous arguments to defend their hateful views. And you know what? In general, they were decent people. Decent people with a major blind spot.

Intelligence is not the same as goodness. It is also not okay to put other people down using one’s intellect. It’s no better than using less educated sounding language to do so. Being clever does not make being unkind, okay. Dorothy Parker was clever. You know what else? She wasn’t very nice.

This has been bothering me a lot lately.  So I am looking inward because that is usually a fruitful thing for me to do. From my professional knowledge, I know that the fact that I am more intelligent than average is not a personal accomplishment. Brains are not the same, starting at birth. I consider myself to be very lucky. Further, not everyone has educational opportunities. I consider my education to have been a wonderful privilege that most do not get a chance to have. In my job, I see many hardworking children who are struggling with school. They are often treated like they are lazy and unintelligent. And by the way,  even if a person is unintelligent, why is it okay to put them down as if it were their own doing?

Okay, I am complaining and this is supposed to be gratitude week. I am grateful for my intelligence and my education. I am grateful for my opportunities and experiences. I am humbled by the chance to help children be as happy and successful as they can be.

Today I wrote the following letter to the English newspaper, The Guardian. It was my response to an online article about whether it is appropriate or ethical for people with stage IV cancer to use social media to communicate about their illness. Lisa Bonchek Adams, a well known breast cancer blogger and communicator through other social media, was used as an example. I was angered by the article, the singling out of Lisa, and the many criticisms Lisa received in the comments section. The article can be found here. (Update: the article was removed by The Guardian who upon investigation removed it.) Lisa Bonchek Adams’ blog can be found here. Also see Nancy’s excellent essay at the Pink Underbelly. If you’d like to send your own letter it can be emailed to letters@theguardian.com.

My letter follows. I am skipping the use of block quotes because it makes the letter harder to read.

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to Emma Keller’s article, which was published by you on 1/8/2014. The author used Lisa Bonchek Adams, who uses social media to communicate about her life with stage IV breast cancer, as an example of a possible unethical use of social media. I am angry about the journalist’s position as well as how the article stimulated a number of negative comments toward someone who needs no more negativity in her life. I have many objections to this piece and I will delineate a few of them here.

First, I believe in freedom of speech. I also believe in personal and professional responsibility. With all of the corruption and violence in the world, why target a mother of three with stage IV breast cancer, just for using social media to communicate about her experience with a horrible disease? This tact makes no sense at all to me.

I object to the characterization of Ms. Adams’ communication as “TMI”. Journalists cover natural disasters all of the time. They cover earthquakes, famine, hurricanes, and more.  The photos and the written stories describe the devastation that people suffer. They describe the resilience and the heroism. Although not everyone is comfortable with the sadness of these stories, the stories are sympathetic and not considered TMI. Cancer is a kind of natural disaster. It is a disease that ravages and impacts countless numbers of people. Is it TMI because Ms. Adams is reporting on herself instead of being interviewed and photographed by “proper” journalists? If a hurricane survivor decided to get support and communicate about his/her experiences in dealing with a natural disaster, would we call this TMI? Would we as fellow human beings make so many negative comments about this person? I think not.

As a psychologist, I understand that distancing ourselves from an illness that can strike anyone, especially a young mother of three children, is a way we deal with the realities we don’t want to consider. They are too close. We can’t think about potential personal disaster every second of every day and function as healthy people. But it is also true that we can’t constantly deny the possibility of disaster and be healthy people. We have to incorporate potential malady into our lives. Understanding and accepting that bad things happen to good people is a building block of compassion. Without it, we let our own fear lead to unfairly assigning negative qualities to people, who are ill through no fault of their own, and doing their very best to manage under truly difficult circumstances.

As a breast cancer survivor, I understand how cancer has changed my life and my relationship with the outside world. I don’t know why I got breast cancer. I am a responsible person, a loving wife and mother, and a professional dedicated to improving the lives of children. I don’t know that I will have a recurrence. I am doing my best to live a healthy life but there is no guarantee that cancer, some other disease, violence, or an accident will end my life. I could say that it’s not fair that I got breast cancer and have had to endure its treatment, which even in this day and age, is brutal. Breast cancer, like a hurricane, is not fair. It is a natural disaster. People afflicted deserve compassion. We live with cancer and its threats in one way or another, every day.

I am also an active blogger about my own breast cancer experience. In doing so, I have enriched my life immeasurably in having made connections with wonderful people such as Ms. Adams. Having cancer is very isolating. It creates a juxtaposition of grief with a deep appreciation of the gift of life, which many people don’t understand. And there are aspects of breast cancer that make it particularly isolating. The breast cancer social media community is a very powerful network of women and men. I have drawn strength through the true friendships that I have made as well as the support of an amazing group of people, who live all over the world.

We will all die. Most of us do not know precisely when or how this will occur. People with stage IV cancer know that they are likely relatively near the end of their lives and that further they are likely to die from cancer. So many people with terminal disease spend their last years in isolation, even if when they are still able to work and carry out many daily responsibilities. Many of them don’t even “look sick” until much later in their disease progression. But their lives can be lonely and arduous. Social media can serve as a way for people to connect with others who understand. I have friends with stage IV breast cancer. I don’t know how much longer they will live or how much longer I will live. But I know that I will stay with them even through the cybersphere until our dying days. I so appreciate learning how to be a better friend to someone who is losing abilities while respecting their humanity and resilience. It is scary to know that I will likely lose more friends than I would have as a function of being part of the breast cancer community. But it is worse to think of us not having each other; there is real joy, love, and shared grief over the Internet. I consider it an honor to be trusted as a friend and to be relied upon to be there during the darkest times.

There are a lot of problems with our electronic age. Many products aimed at children, in particular, are harmful. There is nothing “virtual” about the breast cancer community. It is very real. Lisa Bonchek Adams is a real woman with real connections. This community is one of the very best and real things about our virtual age.

Thank you for your kind attention to my concerns.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth P. MacKenzie, Ph.D.

Art, Science, Heart ❥

journals of a mature student nurse

Heart Sisters

For women living with heart disease

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

KomenWatch

Keeping our eyes and ears open.....

Life in a Wheelchair

You never think it could happen to you!

4 Times and Counting

Confessions Of A 4 Time Breast Cancer Survivor

Nancy's Point

A blog about breast cancer, loss & survivorship

After Twenty Years Cancer Research Blog

Exploring progress in cancer research from the patient perspective.

My Eyes Are Up Here

My life is not just about my chest, despite rumblings to the contrary.

Woman in the Hat

Cancer to Wellness in 1,038,769 Easy Steps!

SeasonedSistah2

Today is Better Than Yesterday

Telling Knots

About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.

The Pink Underbelly

A day in the life of a sassy Texas girl dealing with breast cancer and its messy aftermath

The Asymmetry of Matter

Qui vivra verra.

Fab 4th and 5th Grade

Teaching readers, writers, and thinkers

Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

making sense of the breast cancer experience together

Telling Knots

About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.

Entering a World of Pink

a male breast cancer blog

Luminous Blue

a mother's and daughter's journey with transformation, cancer, death and LOVE

Fierce is the New Pink

Run to the Bear!

The Sarcastic Boob

Determined to Manage Breast Cancer with the Same Level of Sarcasm with which I Manage Everything Else

FEC-THis

Life after a tango with death & its best friend cancer