User Researcher
NED since 2014

Before I could begin chemotherapy, I needed blood transfusions to keep my red blood cell count elevated. After each transfusion, I would feel like my old self for an hour or two; then, inevitably, I’d feel cold and tired, and I would sleep for hours.
There was not much to do in the first few days of a cancer diagnosis except worry and overthinking, and (inevitably) learn to lie down at night with my blanket of uncertainty. As I kept waiting for treatment to begin, the uncertainty I felt morphed into somniphobia: a fear of sleep. I was certain that if I fell asleep, if I wasn’t vigilant with worry, I’d “lose the battle” with cancer. I’d read that phrase over and over in obituaries.

Like many young adults who get cancer, I felt like a burden to everyone. I avoided telling anyone on my care team or family about my somniphobia. I figured my illness was already such a burden that sharing my anxiety would only weigh people down more.

Finally, Amy, one of my care team members, convinced me to tell her why I wasn’t sleeping. “Whatever it is, I know it’s not stupid. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me, and I will help you,” she said.

Amy’s insistence that my feelings were valid and that she would listen, transformed me. The antidote for my somniphobia wasn’t something I could administer on my own. I realized what I most needed were connections with those around me. Amy’s empathy and my subsequent realization of the importance of human connection got me through chemotherapy, and to where I am now.

Empathy and compassion are strong values in the cancer survivor community. As I’ve moved on from cancer, I continue to prioritize empathy in all of my relationships. As a result, I’ve enhanced my ability to listen and empathize with others in both my personal life and my career. These practices help me to be a better partner at home and a more effective collaborator at work. I will always look for my opportunity to be someone else’s Amy because I now know the power of feeling heard.