Tuesday, April 3, 2007
What makes a woman a SURVIVOR? For that matter what makes anyone a survivor? What gives one person hope and strength while another feels only weakness and failure? I have spent the last 13 months as a cancer patient and the better half of the last year imagining myself as a cancer survivor. Better yet, a Breast Cancer survivor. I have wondered to myself many times, "When do I declare myself a survivor? " Is it at the very moment you hear those terrifying words, "breast cancer" coming out of your doctors mouth? Or it when you finish your last chemo treatment? Is it when you hear the "all clear" at two years, five years or at ten years? When do you actually call yourself a Cancer Survivor?
Honestly, I think it is a personal question with a personal answer for each and every woman who decides to fight this imposing beast. I believe just deciding to stand up to the beast, declare war on it and fight, no matter what the ultimate outcome is, entitles a woman to call herself a survivor. For me personally, it has been a slow process. I did not wake up one morning and decide I was a survivor. It has happened gradually for me. I have felt myself becoming a survivor as each day, each new fight has come to light, and as each chemo came and went and then came again to finally come and go for one last time. Becoming a survivor came as I embraced the pain in my bones and the loss of my hair. It came as I made peace with my own immortality and with the fear of leaving my children motherless. It came as I walked for a cure and crossed the finish line hand and hand with my family and friends. It came again as I quietly marked the first anniversary of my diagnoses and again with the loss of my breast. Becoming a survivor has been a choice. For me it was a natural process, taking one step at a time toward hope. I have found it in the many joys of life. I have found it in the many hurts in life and I have found it in the many uncertainties of life. But no matter how I found it, I did indeed find it and have held tightly to the challenge. I have embraced this life changing, life altering and life affirming decision to become a survivor.
Humor and laughter have become my two best friends, my strongest weapons in the fight against the beast that would be my undoing if allowed to get the better of me. Laughter has brought my soul healing. Greeting each new day with a smile and a grateful heart has brought me a new appreciation for life. After all, life is for living, and I am not going to be striped of living each day that I am given just because I am sick! No illness, especially this cancer, will ever steal my love for life nor my hope for life away from me. I fully intend to embrace life and all that it holds, both the good and the bad.
With all certainty cancer has a way of changing people. For both the person with the life threatening, soul awakening condition and the people whom surround and fill their life. In my own experience I have found it can bring out the best and the worst in people. Some expected and some unexpected, yet no matter whom and why, it happens without your say, my say or even their say. It is just part of the nature of the beast. Some will rally around you, not backing down, while others will run as far as they can from the fear of what they cannot control or manage. But in understanding that cancer is not a neat little box wrapped up with a bow that can be put away on a shelf and forgotten about, you truly realize that cancer is a miserable, dirty, dingy, undesirable, beat up parcel that just shows up at your door step when you least expect it. Cancer changes how you cope and manage the uncertainty in your own life and those lives that surround you once the beast pops out of the box.
I have changed and I can say that without hesitation or regret. Cancer has indeed changed me in so many ways. Before my beastly friend decided to take up residence within my body I never sought to stand for myself, nor had I ever really felt at home within my own skin. Loosing a breast and all your body hair somehow does that for you! Being able to walk out in public, knowing that you look like the cancer patient that you are, yet still make yourself smile back at those whom would judge you, turns you into a survivor.
Sitting here thinking of the past year, I am overwhelmed by the fact that I am here today. I sit here in awe, my breath completely taken away and tears rolling down my face, just knowing that I am here to be overwhelmed. I am not ashamed of my emotion, because to feel the emotion is to be alive, and to embrace that emotion is to breath in the life that I am living this very moment! I am so very grateful to be alive and to be able to hug my boys, to kiss my husband and to give thanks to my Creator for each blessing I hold close every morning. So again, I say: life is for living for I cannot stop my dying. Death will come for me as it comes for all of us eventually. I cannot hold back my date with the grave just as I know that when my time comes it will come without hesitation. All I can do is live until death comes to greet and carry me to the grave and beyond. So live I will ! Nothing more can I ask for. I can only meet the beast head on with grace and dignity knowing that I have lived my life fully without the fear of deaths undertaking.
So I say now, I am a Survivor. I am ready to wear pink and not feel sick at the sight of it. I am ready to be a pink ribbon survivor, to wear it proudly and not feel inadequate. Yes, I am ready to humbly join the ranks of so many strong women that have come before me. I stand tall. I stand proud. And I stand victorious. I cannot choose my fate, but I can choose to live eachday with HOPE.