“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Well, I did indeed live through the horror (or horrors, if we’re counting the previous surgeries, procedures, and nastiness), so I guess I can indeed take the next thing that comes along.
That next thing better be something good.
It’s been a long road, and while a lot of people have even longer and more pot-hole-filled roads, I’m thinking only about mine right now. I’m still recovering and can be selfish like that. I won’t ride that wave too long, or play that card too often, but for today, I’m thinking about my road and no one else’s.
I really like the quote above from Eleanor Roosevelt, and thank Susan Christopherson for passing it along to me in the early days of my “cancer journey.” In those early days, I had no idea that the diagnosis and mastectomy were going to be the easy parts, that a nasty infection would make those previous experiences seem like a walk in through a rainbow-infused meadow with my pet unicorn. Ha!
Another quote of Ms Roosevelt’s that’s always been a favorite of mine is “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” True dat.
I’ve had a lot of comments about my fearless attitude, and some people have kindly suggested that my sunny outlook has helped propel me through this “cancer journey” without much trouble. If you want to know how I do it, the answer is: I don’t know, it’s just what you do.
I grew up with the “it’s just what you do” principle, and maybe it’s like freckles or pigeon toes–you either got it or ya don’t. My parents did instill that principle, and they did a good job, so it took. I certainly don’t wake up every morning with cartoon birds singing out my window and little woodland creatures bringing me my robe & slippers (although that would be pretty cool). If they could bring me a skinny latte, that would be even better.
I suppose there are two ways to face a horrifying situation: head-on, like Ms. Roosevelt suggests, or with your head buried in the sand. I’m a head-on kind of girl, and the head-in-the-sand approach has never worked for me. I kinda admire the people who can do that, though, because it seems a lot easier. But here’s the thing: no matter how you face a scary situation, it’s still scary.
Cancer didn’t make me brave. I don’t think it’s a gift (as I’ve written about before, and will continue to rant about at any given time, so get used to it!). Good things can come from a bad situation, but the bad situation does not magically become a good thing.
The truth of the matter is that cancer sucks. Whether it’s an early diagnosis and best-case outcome or late-stage and aggressive, it just sucks. There are untold ways in which it sucks. And there are innumerable ways in which it affects your life and body. For me the scariest and suckiest thing about cancer is that once you have it, you can do everything right and face everything head-on with no guarantee that it will all work out ok. That’s just not right. Our society is based on the idea that if you work hard, you will propser. The American Dream, right? Well, cancer doesn’t subscribe to that idea. It’s random, and vicious, and unfair.
But guess what? We don’t have to fear it. Yes, it is one of the worst things that can happen. Being diagnosed (with no family history) at a (relatively) young age was a serious sucker-punch. My world has been topsy-turvy for the last 10 months. But as my sweet friend and survivor sister Jenny reminds me, it’s temporary. In fact, she was kind enough to make me a poster right before my reconstruction last week to reiterate that idea. I wanted to take it to the hospital with me, but the extreme heat of the ICU room would have melted the glue dots and cute sparkly stickers.
Jenny has reminded me from day one of my “cancer journey” that it is temporary, which means I can endure it. I can get through it. Some days I’ve questioned that, and Jenny has texted me a simple message: it’s temporary. Knowing that removes some of the fear and shifts that balance of power from cancer back to me, where it belongs.