Suffering. It's all relative to what you know. Everyone's experiences in life are different. More importantly, no one faces similar challenges the same way. Even though we might want to do otherwise, it can be useful to maintain the belief that the challenges others facing significant challenges that are no less than yours.
Einstein's theory of relativity pertained to physics and the movement of objects in space and time. My theory of relativity is the theory of the relativity of suffering, and it pertains to the reality of facing challenges over time.
Exhibit A: This past Friday night, I was waiting to get my housing assignment for next year. Duke may be one of the best universities in the country, but I'll be the first to admit that their housing assignment process is archaic and SO SLOW!! Anyway, that meant that my friend/future roommate and I were waiting there for about an hour and a half. The other girls we were blocking with were sitting in the row in front of us. One of the girls brought her mom along because her mom was visiting for the weekend. We talked about a lot of different things, but one conversation stood out. My sorority is having a “formal” next week and we were all asked for fun facts about ourselves with which we could be formally introduced. Since most wouldn't categorize "a two-time cancer survivor" as a fun fact, I used the fact that my birthday is the 4th of July (which is true!). As I was telling my friend this, I then explained that, ironically, I was born 11 weeks premature and I was not supposed to have been born in July. That elicited a gasp from my friend's mom, who proceeded to comment on the wonder of my survival and the miracle that I was able to flourish into such a healthy adult after having had such a rough start to life. All I could think of was that my preemie experience was nothing compared to what came later in my life. However, relative to what she had experienced in her life, being preemie was already bad enough.
Exhibit B: One of my good friends was having family trouble back home, which encompassed both financial and relationship challenges. Her perseverance through that struggle truly astounded me. Knowing all that she had already been through and all that she was going through, I was shocked to see how well she was keeping it together. I was so upset about it that I even called my parents in tears, not knowing what to do. I honestly don't know how I could have handled her situation. She inspired me and yet, she would tell me I was an inspiration. Even though I have survived cancer twice, her challenges seemed so much greater than anything I had been through because they were constant throughout the majority of her life. For me, this is how I came to realize how relative suffering is compared to your own life experience.
Exhibit C: If you are a cancer patient or survivor, you are most likely familiar with the fact that people always are sure to clarify that what they have been through doesn't compare to what you are going through. This always bothered me because I know people who have been through so many different kinds of challenges, all of which I thought were terribly difficult to overcome.
Basically, the underlying point here is that looking at suffering and challenges as all relative can help you recognize the positives in whatever you are facing. For me, this perspective helped me to be grateful simply for the success of my treatment and less angry about why I had to go through it all. This frame of mind is especially handy at the very beginning and in the middle of your treatment, when you feel so let down and so trapped.