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10 Life Lessons Only People who’ve Lost a Loved One to Cancer Know So Well

10 Life Lessons Only People who’ve Lost a Loved One to Cancer Know So Well

This story is sad. This story is dreadful. This story is tragic. But it is real. And as sad as the story is, it happens all over the world to people indiscriminately—so many times that not many care to keep count.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 8.2 million cancer related deaths in 2012, with the number of new cases expected to rise by about 70% over the next 2 decades. Here are ten life lessons only people who have lost a loved one to cancer know so well.

1. Life is precious and fleeting.

Anyone who’s walked ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’ can attest to how precious and fleeting life is. You are here today and gone tomorrow. My father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in January, when I was 17. By April of the same year, he was dead. Let me just say watching someone you love so much slowly wither away and die young (my father was supposed to turn 46 later that year) is no joke. The emotional enormity of the experience, its absolute finality—it breaks you.

2. The words “I love you” mean more when said to a loved one when they are still alive.

The most beautiful words are often spoken when someone has passed away. But, why wait until it’s too late? I never told my father how much I loved him, or even how much he meant to me when he was still alive. I was a stubborn teenager who rarely verbalized my true feelings or said thoughtful words to those I loved—until, as first born, I was required to help draft my father’s eulogy. Sadly, many people are like that (stubborn and unloving) well past their rebellious teen years.

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Surely your loved one doesn’t have to be on their deathbed for you to say something wonderful to them. Say you love them today and show it in a thousand different ways. As terrifying as it may be, tell them. Seriously, why wait until they die to tell them you love them when you can tell them now?

3. A “Thank you” is more significant if a loved one can hear it and respond.

The day my father died of cancer of the liver was my brother’s birthday. He looked calm and happy lying on the hospital bed when he asked my brother and I to go celebrate the birthday rather than stay at the hospital. I can’t recall if we thanked him for letting us leave early, but we ran out of the hospital to celebrate. That same night, around 8 pm, while we were playing video games, my father passed on. I wish we had been more deliberate in saying thank you to dad for being so loving and thoughtful, even on his sick bed.

Don’t wait to say, “thank you.” Surprise someone you care about with these beautiful words before it’s too late. Let those you love know you are thankful for everything they’ve done for you. Make sure they understand that you appreciate them – that you are grateful for the good memories and continued love they show you even when you aren’t very loveable.

4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The pain and sense of loss I felt when my father died is unparalleled. I reached rock bottom. I was in the deepest, darkest pit of misery and hopelessness. I can’t possibly fall any farther than that. Even if (God forbid) I lost my wife, my daughter, and my mom all at once (all of whom I love with all my heart and soul and might), I cannot feel such depth and raw pain as I felt when cancer ripped my father from our family. It was my maiden encounter with real pain—a baptism of fire. Now nothing can break me—death can’t break me. I am strong. I have survived the horror of watching someone I love dearly die a slow, agonizing death.

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Cancer does that to you. You know what you’ve been through, and you’re stronger for it. You live in constant gratitude, brimming with love and thankfulness, because no matter where you find yourself, no matter your present situation, no matter the trials before you… you’ve been through hell and survived. Somehow you’re still here, you’re together…and you know you can make it through anything.

5. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

We watched helplessly as dad moaned, groaned and writhed in excruciating pain from the cancer. He suffered unspeakable discomfort from all the treatments, surgeries, drugs, and injections, and it pained me more than words can explain. I wished I could take the chemo treatments for him, but I couldn’t.

The sight (weight loss, hair loss, and so on) and the thought of what a loved one is going through kills you inside, but you can’t do anything about it—the pain is inevitable. But when it is all finished, you alone get to decide how long you will continue to suffer and when you should accept it and move on.

6. Time heals all wounds.

When my dad died, I was a total wreck. I refused to go to school. I ran away from home. I had nothing to do with God, for he had “abandoned” us in our hour of need. I started drinking and smoking, but somehow, in the course of time, the pain and hurt subsided. Almost 12 years have passed since my dad died, and trust me when I say the wound is healed. The scars are still there—but the wound is healed.

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Time indeed does heal all wounds. Don’t despair. Give it time. Even though you are in such emotional pain that you can’t see how you can move on after the loss of a loved one, take heart, because time heals all wounds. The scars may remain (possibly forever), but your wound will heal in time.

7. Hard times reveal true friends.

It just so happens that the people who you expect will be there for you may not; and those people you never expected to be there will. I remember a close friend of my mother who was also her church-mate at the time speaking behind her back at church saying that the reason my dad had died was because my mother was not “Christian” enough. That really hurt my mother, because she trusted this woman and would not have expected such hurtful words to come from her.

Cancer has a way of bringing out who your true friends are—the ones who will be beside you through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through the beauty and the ugliness. Once you know who your true friends are, embrace and keep them close, along with your family. These are the people who truly matter. You will lean on them regularly and they will lean on you. Your friendship will nourish and carry you through many trials and tribulations that life throws.

8. Life is worth living.

It is ironic that seeing the face of death causes us to live life with even more passion. Once you’ve experience the death of a loved one to cancer, the way you live and view life after the storm has passed is never the same. I wake up every morning thankful. I appreciate all the loved ones left in my life with greater fervor, because it is crystal clear to me that life is not guaranteed. I recognize that soon it will all end.

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No one can predict the moment of death, and nothing ever prepares you for it, but with every sunrise and sunset, with every bird song and rainfall, with every blossoming flower in the spring and every fallen leaf in the autumn—rise up and celebrate life and all the little notes that compose life’s great symphony.

9. Miracles happen.

Life gives and takes away. Even newborn babies die. People eventually learn to accept the turn life has taken and work with it instead of struggling against it. It isn’t easy, but the more you surrender, the easier it is to maintain peace of mind and move on. Never underestimate the resilience of the human spirit.

It’s amazing how people who’ve lost loved ones to cancer pull themselves through and not only continue to live, but also to live better. It’s a miracle that many who actually endure the whole ordeal of chemo treatments come out of it alive and actually thrive.

10. Life will go on without you.

Mortality is something we all must face. Even though people don’t want to think about death, the fact remains that we will all die one day. And, sad as it may be, the world won’t stop because you are gone. It will keep spinning. The joys and struggles of surviving will continue with or without you. If that makes you sad, just remember this: the horror of life is that it changes; the beauty of life is that it changes.

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That’s why we celebrate and give thanks for all cancer survivors. We celebrate all the valiant souls who have passed on, and all those who are left behind to tell the story. Love and peace to you all.

Featured photo credit: jimp200962 via pixabay.com

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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