What Does Empowerment Mean to You?
Last updated: September 2023
At various points since my diagnosis with stage IV metastatic breast cancer (MBC), I've been asked what word conveys this concept of empowerment as various healthcare workers or journalists worked on preparing literature for patients living with cancer.
Considering patient perspectives
Before I dig into my own response/reaction to this term, let me first acknowledge how thankful I am that there is an increasing effort to get patient input in developing literature or programs; as so many of us often say, "Nothing for us, without us."
People who have reached out to me to get input on this concept from someone living with MBC have typically gotten an earful because, as with many things, I don't have neutral feelings on the term "empowerment."
The definitions of empowerment
Looking at Merriam-Webster's definition of empowerment, I can easily understand why I get all bent out of shape.
The first definition listed is, "the act or action of empowering someone or something: the granting of the power, right or authority to perform various acts or duties."1
The second definition is a little more palatable: "the state of being empowered to do something: the power, right or authority to do something."1
You already have power
Perhaps those who write about patient empowerment are focusing on that second definition. Maybe they are thinking of confirming for patients what they already have. What I hear when someone uses the term empowerment, though, is that first definition, that the person utilizing that term is communicating that they are in the position of granting power.
And I react strongly to anyone behaving like they are in a position to give me power.
Word choices matter
This may feel like semantics to you, and I confess that language and word choices are super triggering for me. As a woman, I've been in quite a few situations where I've not been the one with power.
In learning how my black husband and mixed children experience the world, I often see how their power is diminished and usually taken by so many others. Nothing brings out Mama Bear more than when I see others being treated differently, and that's exponentially increased when it's my precious kiddos.
Examples of the power you possess
Here's the thing, though: we all have unique power just by being ourselves. In the medical context, we have the power of consent to say no when a treatment intervention or procedure is unsuitable. We have the power of presence to remain in a situation or not when it's not suitable for us. We have the power of connection, to connect with others in powerful ways by sharing our stories and experiences.
The impact of your power
Rather than considering words of empowerment, we should be focused on educating patients about the power they inherently have. We are the consumers, the end users of the medical system. We have so much more power than we realize to create change, move the needle, and effectively ensure a positive experience for ourselves and others.
I believe that reveling in that power, connecting with others to express that power, and never letting someone else take that power from us is key within the entire patient experience.
The next time someone uses this word, remember that you innately have the power, and no one else can change that.
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