Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back

This is a copy of an article a wrote that was published in the July issue of Laurel Magazine in Highlands NC….

The shirt I am wearing says Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back. In fact, the past 7 years of Relay for Life purple survivor shirts in my closet carry the same exact message. As I ponder it, I realize the celebrate part is easy. When you escape from the disease that claims so many lives it is not difficult to find a reason for celebration. Any event will do…Happy Tuesday…the dog’s birthday…a day to sit and listen to the rain…or to walk in the sunshine… clean dishes day…walk through the grocery store day…even a day to get a haircut is an exceptionally good day to smile. Being glad to be alive EVERY day is one of the hidden treasures of Cancerland. Perspective is a gift that stays behind long after the offending cells are gone. In fact, Cancerland changes the way you view just about everything.

In today’s world, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ is a mantra used by many. After my cancer, I adapted it a bit. I now say, CELEBRATE the small stuff. The everyday mundane things that we take for granted become the snippets of our lives we grasp for when we are weak. Routine is comforting, even inspiring, on days when our lives seem to have been turned upside down. We would give anything to feel good enough to attend our child’s soccer game or band concert, or to walk around window shopping. When life slowly returns, we know the value of such every day moments. I think as survivors we are good at celebrating, but that next word…remember… is a bit more problematic.

Remembering is hard, and I am not just talking about chemo brain. When we remember those who have not survived this dreaded disease it is painful. We miss them. When we remember our journey into the medical world as cancer patients, well let’s just say we’d rather not. Cancer is a very humbling disease, from being bald, to losing various body parts as you are being carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Sunken eyes, translucent skin, no eyebrows/lashes/nose hair…it all makes you feel subhuman. The tests and scans are, many times, humiliating. Being poked and prodded makes you feel as if you are on a cattle drive. I won’t even go into what treatments do to your digestive system. Cancer is a private matter. The brokenness of body and the attempt at breaking the human spirit is experienced universally for each victim. It is painful on so many levels. We’d rather block all of these things out than remember them.

In addition, there is the reminder that our human bodies are not made to last forever. Cancer shows just how frail and vulnerable our lives really are. It shines a spotlight on the fact that we are not in control of the outcome, and that is enough to cause us to flinch. Our faith gets a work out. Fear lives always in the back of our heads. In Cancerland, the reality of death is in our face and it crumbles any illusions we hold onto about the length or fairness of life. Who would want to remember all of that? If you survive cancer the first thing you do is try to erase the memories. My question is should you? Should you put it all under wraps and act as if it never happened?

This is where the next words come in. Fight Back. Fighting back looks different for different people. There are so many ways to do battle. Donate money to wonderful causes who support cancer victims and their families. Walk, run, or ride for life in one of the numerous events that raise money for cancer research. Some of the most avid supporters of these causes are survivors who want to somehow make a difference in the fight. Not every survivor is called to stand up and speak the details of their story, yet acknowledging your story is important. There is a difference. One is a very public statement standing on a stage with a microphone, the other is more private…more personal. Acknowledging that you have faced down a monstrous foe and have overcome is an inspiration to those who are still in the battle. It says to them, “You can do this. It is possible. Do not give up.” Just standing up as a survivor gives hope to those battling. Whether you are attending a survivor dinner, or walking laps or any number of other activities you are making a statement. You do not have to say one word. Your testimony speaks volumes to those who are still in the fight. They receive hope simply because they can see your strength in the way you live life to the fullest. Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.

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