How to Inspire Hope When Life Seems Hopeless

GUEST POST BY LORI HOPE

I recently had lunch with someone I often think of as my “miracle pal,” my dear friend Roxanne. Her advanced cervical cancer returned more than Lori Hopea year ago, after an almost two year remission, but she has remained remarkably healthy.

Rox chose not to pursue any more conventional treatment. Her doctor told her that undergoing chemo again would only extend her life for a very short time, and since she was symptom-free, she chose to live her days fully, pursuing alternative treatment modalities, including and perhaps most important, what brings her joy.

But joy wasn’t what I saw as we waited for the black-haired waitress to bring our spicy tuna sandwiches. I sensed a sadness in Rox; It looked like hope had drained from her face like blood from a tournequeted finger. Knowing how private she is, I let her take the communicative lead; in other words, I simply asked in a nonchalant way how she was doing, and allowed her to choose the topic of conversation. She kept things light, but I could feel a heaviness sinking her soul.

I kept wondering how I could impart hope to her. Was that in fact even possible? It’s easy to dash hope; people inadvertently do it all the time by telling cancer “horror stories.” But how do you give someone hope, besides telling a success story of someone else who fared well or survived?

I know that telling people with cancer to think positively can actually make them feel worse. Yet everyone knows that thinking positively makes one feel more hopeful. So it would follow that people with cancer would want to be reminded, “You have to be positive.” Right?

Wrong. Hope is a feeling, while positive thinking is a mental construct. It can be nigh impossible to “change your mind” and think about the bright side when you’re traumatized. And it’s normal to feel sad, angry, and even hopeless when faced with a diagnosis of cancer.

But there is still great hope for inspiring hope. Here’s what I’ve found. When someone shows me they love me, when they demonstrate that they accept me for who I am, right now, even when I’m being cranky or negative, it makes me feel better, and therefore more hopeful. Studies show that social support increases feelings of hope.

When I’m criticized or told what to do, the implication is that I’m not doing it — whatever “it” is — well enough. That can undermine my confidence and make me feel worse.

Over lunch, I told my friend that I love being with her. That I love her calm energy, but that I love her whether her energy’s calm or not or whether she’s feeling up or down. I told her how much I love our friendship.

By providing comfort, love, and confidence, and by silently supporting her treatment or lack of treatment decision, even if it’s not the decision I would make, I think I inspired hope. At least I hope I did.

It’s always a struggle to say and do the “right thing,” and, sometimes nothing you say or do will be “right,” because your friend or loved one is so stressed and therefore mercurial. Hence, the statement that people with cancer want you to know, “My moods change day to day; please forgive me if I snap at you,” rings all too true all too often.

But by just being there, and by listening, you can make a world of difference. By telling someone you are thinking about them, that you love them, that you believe in them, you can help them live a richer, more meaningful, and more miraculous life.

Always hope,
Lori Hope

Cancer survivor, Lori Hope is the author of Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You to Know, Amazon.com’s second bestselling “cancer support” book. A newly expanded second edition of the book will be out next year. You can find more of Lori’s work on her blog. And if you’d like to participate in an anonymous survey about what was most helpful — and not so helpful — to you after receiving a cancer diagnosis, please click here. Participants will be eligible to receive a package of outstanding health and healing books.




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One Response to “How to Inspire Hope When Life Seems Hopeless”

  1. Paula G. says:

    Lori, I battled stage 3 breast cancer two years ago and am not showing any signs of re-occurrence so far. I love what you wrote about accepting people where they are, and how that alone can create hope. I completely agree. My husband was confused about how to support me. He just wanted to fix everything. All I needed him to do was love me through it. And he did, in his own way. But your post here would have been really helpful for us back then. Paula

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