Compassion: Learning to Care for Oneself and Others

Without self-care and self-compassion we cannot be effective caregivers for extended period of times. Self-care can include joining a support group, meditation or other mind-body class, a spiritual support-group or other self-care approaches.


Cancer does not solely affect individuals. It affects the larger community, which consists of families, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Witnessing a loved one overcoming or struggling with cancer may foster feelings of joy or sorrow. These deep emotions are rooted in our heart’s ability to have compassion. The Latin for compassion — “com-pati” — means, “to suffer with.” Consequently, family members, particularly patients’ spouses/partners, “suffer with.” When caregivers witness their loved one hurting from cancer and its treatment, they hurt as well.

In fact, our own research reveals caregivers experience symptoms such as psychological distress, fatigue, and sleep disturbances just as much or even more than patients. The first step in compassion is often the feeling of empathy toward those who suffer, which in turn produces the genuine desire to help. Empathy, as in being in someone else’s shoes, without progress to true compassion can be detrimental in the long run for the caregiver.

Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., and Kathrin Milbury, Ph.D., The Integrative Medicine Program, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas