September: Learning Empathy »

Instead of running RSS sponsorships this month, I’m raising money in support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Click here to learn more and donate.


In the nearly seven and a half years of being the parent of a child with cancer, I’ve heard this line a bunch from people sharing their own story of pain or grief:

It’s nothing like what you guys are going through.

I know what people mean when they say this. They suddenly remember they’re talking to someone who was told their baby had a brain tumor and feel like whatever they are saying isn’t valid in light of my situation.

For a long time, I struggled with this type of conversation. Watching someone fumble with a sudden pang of guilt — maybe mixed in pity — would make me angry. I can’t give a shit about your problem,” I would often think. Don’t you know my rock is way bigger than yours?

That response proved to be a pretty good way to damage my friendships. It took a lot of time — and therapy — to realize a simple truth:

Suffering exists on a scale.

For example, I have a friend who was telling me about his child breaking her arm on a playground. They had to rush to the hospital and have it set. It sounded truly traumatic, then he stopped himself short.

It’s nothing like what you guys are going through.

The truth I’ve come to learn is that for him, and for his family, that day on the playground was terrifying. It was the scariest moment he and his wife have had as parents. Seeing their daughter in pain and in danger was traumatic.

Just because my family’s worst day was more dramatic or more serious doesn’t mean I have the right to discount his family’s worst day. That’s taken time to learn, and it’s something I still have to think about when I talk with people.

I don’t know how my family’s story will end. I can’t tell you what the future holds, but I know the last seven and a half years have changed me. Some of it for the better; a lot of it not. Extreme situations have a way of boiling a lot of life away, leaving just the raw core. It’s hard, but it’s a chance to look at who we really are, and, hopefully, work to improve.

No matter what’s going on in your life, I encourage you to take a step back and think about empathy. It’s not a natural response — at least for me — but one I’m learning, day by day.


Instead of running RSS sponsorships this month, I’m raising money in support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Click here to learn more and donate.