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Care for Others, Care for Yourself

Today I had the privilege of delivering the keynote address at Beloved Foundation’s REACH Oncology Symposium at the University of California Riverside. Attendees were from oncology-related organizations, including healthcare providers and advocacy groups, with professional backgrounds in nursing, social work, and patient advocacy.

Regardless of organization or official role, it was apparent that each person in attendance is passionate about helping cancer patients. Most (if not all) have a personal connection to cancer that prompted them to do this work. While the Symposium didn’t include patients, I could easily see the commitment these good people have to providing relief and assistance to patients and their families.

As a bit of an experiment, I asked attendees to turn to the “neighbor” sitting next to them and describe the work role that prompted them to attend today’s meeting. After a minute of discussion amongst themselves, I invited the entire group – by show of hands – to share if the “neighbor” talked about their role in terms of others or in terms of themselves. Every single attendee spoke of what they do in terms of other people.

I wasn’t surprised by the show of hands. People who enter caring professions usually have altruistic motivations and find intrinsic satisfaction in service to others.

Often these most admirable qualities are also what lead caregivers to prioritize the needs of others over their own personal needs. An unfortunate and unintended consequence can be compassion fatigue – a state of physical, emotional, and/or spiritual depletion associated with caring for others.

In the ensuing discussion, we talked about the importance of not only caring for others but also caring for yourself. It’s not selfish to acknowledge you have needs. Caregivers are always more effective if they nurture body, mind, and spirit, recharging their personal batteries and developing the resilience to carry on for those who depend on them.
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