The penguin and the polar bear

Someone very nice sent me a card with this message a while back. I enjoyed the simplicity of the words: matter-of-fact and purposeful without being overly froufy or cheesy. I wasn’t familiar with Mary Anne Radmacher but liked her message enough to find out if she was someone with whom I should be familiar.

She and I have something in common: we love words. On her website, she says: “i have a history of fascination with words, starting from a very young age. my writing reflects philosophies inherent to my being. these include: a commitment to passionate, intentional living; valuing wellness; and embracing the moment.” (she also writes in all lower-case letter, like one of my favorite poets, e.e. cummings.)

I was afraid she was going to get all touchy-feely on me — something I really don’t like, but she reigned it in. I’m so glad. Because I really like her statement on courage, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately during recovery mode. This last surgery was harder than I expected, and the recovery has been way more arduous than I imagined. Knowing that this surgery isn’t the last one is rough as well, but I’m trying to be a brave little soldier.

I’ve always equated courage with bravery. To me they go hand-in-hand and seem like very good friends, and they also seem like something one is born with but can develop. Being diagnosed with cancer at a young-ish age is a challenge that draws on all of one’s resources, and courage is at the top of that list. During this “cancer journey” I’ve had a lot of people say things like “You’re so strong,” and “I don’t know how you do this,” and “I’m not sure I could do it.” While I’m very appreciative of the support, being strong or being able to “do this” isn’t for me an acquired skill or a specific endeavour. It comes down to a very simple fact: whether you’re strong or weak doesn’t matter much in a cancer battle. The cancer will do what it’s going to do, and curling up into a little ball isn’t going to make it stop.

Courage, however, does play a role. Not so much in the facing the bad news or dealing with the endless heaps of unpleasantness that comprise a cancer battle; that’s more a question of strength and endurance. Research. Appointments. Decisions. Testing. Pain. Fear. Worry. Medical bills. The heaps are indeed endless. While it certainly does take strength to face a diagnosis, the fact of the matter is that you will hear the doctor’s words and you will see the summary on the pathology report whether you do so with eyes wide open or while sobbing uncontrollably. You will deliver the most unwelcome of news to your circle of friends and family the same way: with a quiet strength or in hysterics. The message you hear and relay — that you have cancer — is the same regardless of how strong you are. While curling up into the fetal position upon diagnosis definitely is an option, it doesn’t change the message. Perhaps it buys you some time, but the message remains the same. Living with that message and putting its effects into play takes courage.