And everybody shouts, “Woo hoo!”
Today I celebrate my second anniversary as a breast cancer survivor. After the shock of your diagnosis, an official survivorship anniversary kinda hangs out there like a big birthday. It’s not today – but it’s coming. When my first anniversary came last year, I was still feeling the sting of the whole affair. But this year … ah, this year is a different story.
How will I celebrate? With my darling husband at the Cubs’ home opener, followed by a big dinner. But a more important question is what have I learned in the two years that have passed?
I learned the true meaning of “in sickness and in health.” My newlywed husband never left my side and was my biggest support and supporter.
I learned who truly fall into the category of my friends and family. They were the ones who didn’t care what was on their calendar. They always had time to be cheerleaders. They were always present.
I learned the power of prayer. Not as in, “Please make me well,” but as in, “Please give me courage, my family comfort and my doctors wisdom.” Someone really BIG was listening.
I learned that even bad things are a learning opportunity. Hundreds of little ditties that had simply evaporated from my mind came back in living color. The 20 biggest life lessons became my book, It’s Just Hair.
I learned that no matter how dark our days may be, there are always those whose days are darker. If we can use our adversities to help thing, nothing we experience will have happened in vain.
Do I possess a Pollyanna personality? Guilty as charged. But hey, when you’re dealt a crummy hand, you play it as best you can. Is this is a bit of a self-serving entry? Guilty again. But sometimes you just gotta march to the drummer you hear at the time.
Got something to celebrate – go for it. This is your hall pass to toot your own horn. And Happy Anniversary to me!
A person becomes a cancer survivor at the point of diagnosis. It is then that patients are forced to confront their own mortality and make adjustments both for the short term (as in cancer treatment) and the long term (as in living with a history of cancer). But how do we define “survivorship?”
The dictionary gives us three: 1)To remain alive or in existence; 2)To carry on despite hardships or trauma; and 3)To remain functional or useable. None of them are particularly glorious. In fact they give the impression that the condition of survivorship is more of a burden than one of celebration. And it should be a time of celebration, even at the point of diagnosis. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the recent words of a woman who’s not only a survivor, but extremely courageous as well.
“We’re all terminal.”
“There may be pain. There may be a lot of things ahead, but whatever they are, they’re ahead. They’re not now.”
“Keep your chin up and don’t go to the funeral, mine or yours or your loved ones’, until the day of the funeral because then you miss the life that you have left.”
Those are the words of survivor Valerie Harper. And they’re not only brilliant in the face of her terminal diagnosis, but for life in general. Certainly we mourn those who are dying and those who are gone. But sooner or later, that includes ALL of us. Furthermore, we’re all survivors, even those who’ve never experienced a cancer diagnosis. Every disappointment and misstep in life prepares us for the next.
I have a feeling everyone’s BFF, Rhoda Morganstern, will have a few more wise words to share. Hey survivors – listen up!
Let’s mention his name one more time and then be done with it. Lance Armstrong is the best recent example of a man who lost his courage. Oh sure, he had a boatload of it fighting cancer. I know firsthand that’s a tough road and his journey (wonderfully described in his autobiography) was inspiring.
But what happened next is very sad. And his prime-time admission did not make it better or forgivable. It is not, however, without purpose. The “Armstrong Affair” is a great teaching moment about the ramifications of a courage-lacking society.
Examples of this abound in history. For centuries, there were those who witnessed acts perpetrated against African Americans, yet failed to step forward to defend the defenseless. During World War II, throngs of ordinary people, after first believing the lies of a psychopath, remained action-less, despite seeing the horrors that occurred around them in what we now call the Holocaust. In the first decade of this century, we all had a ringside seat in observing the aftermath of those whose greed was so strong, they brought down entire industries and a great deal of the American economy.
Courage is what holds a human society together. We therefore have a social responsibility to be courageous whenever we can. It sets an example on the world stage. It sets an example for children, ours and others’. It will ultimately make us feel better than the guy or gal who circumvents it.
It is not, however, the easiest road to take. And that’s where the teaching comes in. Find someone this week (adult or child) and have this discussion: why is courage more important than fame, power, money or winning? Let me know how it goes.
And now let’s move on to more important headlines.
Facing a life challenge like breast cancer changes lives forever, physically and emotionally. But it is also a chance for a new beginning. With Breast Cancer Awareness Month coming to a close, I’d like to share with you what my new beginning after breast cancer brought me.
1. Here’s the first of my three new mantras: save you lumps, check for bumps. It saved my life and I tell every woman I meet.
2. I wrote It’s Just Hair: 20 Essential Life Lessons, not only to share life lessons with others, but also to serve as a fund raiser for non-profits.
3. Second and third new mantra: One, everything happens for a reason, even the bad things. Second, we all owe a payback to humanity. If you can find a way to join those two things, even better.
Pick a day for your new beginning. Look forward, but remember how far you’ve come. Think of the new skills, assets and enlightenment your experience has brought you. Now go live a fabulous life!
A breast cancer patient aims for one goal – to change her status to cancer surviver. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines survivor as “remaining alive or in existence” and “continuing to function.” That sounds more like a description of my 15-year-old washing machine!
Just as an NFL defense fights to hold the line, we fight our disease. Just as an Army general fights against enemy forces with all the military can provide, we battle our disease with all modern medicine can throw at it. Football players and military troops give it their all to win. They’re not called survivors; they’re called winners.
I therefore propose that those who beat cancer not only be referred to as cancer survivors, but as CANCER WINNERS. Who’s on board with me?
Researchers learn from our illness to help future patients. We, as patients, learn (and re-learn) important life lessons, like acceptance, blessings, humor and courage, through our illness that can change our lives and the lives of those around us.
And when we are successful in our fight, it’s our duty to pay the knowledge it forward. Today’s lesson – if you’ve been blessed with a second chance, don’t blow it. Live like you mean it!
No matter what kind of treatment you had or where you had it, you no doubt have some post-treatment issues. Big or small, physical or between the ears, don’t dismiss them. Rather, talk with your doctor or do a little research on line. There are support organizations and Survivor Care Plans just waiting to give you a big hand.
Halloween’s next week … then Thanksgiving … then the holidays. The year is rushing to a close.
Still no excuse for not doing your self breast exams. I’m just checking – are you?
When I assembled the articles and blogs I’d written during my treatment into It’s Just Hair: 20 Essential Life Lessons, I was astonished at some folks’ reactions: “How can you be so flippant about such a deadly disease?” “What good does a Pollyanna outlook do if you’re dying?” “How can you possibly find humor in chemotherapy?”
I have one answer: why not? We can be as dour and troubled and stressed as we want to be about our condition, but that won’t change the condition. Yes, there were days I wanted to pull the covers over my head and cry – and some days I did. But I think the days that I smiled are the days that I healed the most.
Is there a monster under your bed at night? Maybe it’s in the closet …. Silly, right? But to children, not knowing for sure what’s there practically makes it true. We grown ups are afraid of the unknown, too. We don’t get mammograms because what if ….
Okay, time to stop hiding under the covers. Pretending something is there isn’t going to make it so (check under your bed – I know there’s no monster!). But ignoring what could be a life saver isn’t the right way to go, either.
Be vigilant about your health – you are your own best advocate. Get the tests you need and THEN deal with the results. We’re all here for you – we’ll help you fight off the monsters!