May 12th, 2016
| Survivor: Breast Cancer
There's no right way to "beat cancer". Everyone's journey with cancer is too different and unique to use narrow definitions of wins and losses. Read more below.
The great Stuart Scott once said: “You beat cancer by the way you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.” This is quite a profound statement which resonates with many survivors and thrivers. Stuart Scott recently succumbed to his illness, so does this mean that he “lost the battle” with cancer as many put it?
I have come to know through my 15-year relationship with cancer that it is all about perception, perspective, choice and language. As far as language, those affected by this illness use the terminology that resonates with them the most. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.
Personally for me, I do not believe in the words like: “I/he/she lost the battle with cancer.” While some of our lives are ended by it and some live with it for the rest of our lives, none of us lose to it.
I know many people who have gone to the other side as a result of cancer and in no way do I think that they “lost their battle” with cancer. In fact, quite the contrary - they lived their lives to its fullest, with vitality and dignity and in the moment. I want to share two personal examples with you for illustration and the impact that they have made on me and others.
The first is a friend and colleague of mine who I will call “Jill” to maintain her identity. She was very young when she received her diagnosis and it was a very aggressive type of breast cancer. She fought through her first round of surgeries and treatment. She was a fighter, literally. She would often send me pictures of herself at the gym punching a bag with her pink boxing gloves on. She never complained and she continued living.
I remember the day she called me telling me her cancer had metastasized and the first time she cried with me. But her emotions didn’t stop her from living and going through more steps and stages of her next phases of treatments. We talked daily and she was certainly living her life with an amazing partner by her side who supported her like no other. When her medical options started to get exhausted and her doctors gave her news that sounded like doom, she immediately reframed the situation and sought continued medical and alternative treatments. She left me in awe because all the while she was technically dying, she truly lived life. She was constantly sending me pictures of the beauty and spirituality she was taking into her life at this time. Eventually the aggressive disease caught up with her, but she never lost her battle. Quite to the contrary, she left a legacy for her family and friends to keep her light lit and for us to carry the lessons that she taught us, allowing us to pay it forward in our own journey and share it with others. She is always in my thoughts, heart and mind and she lifts me just when I need it. She is always with me and she taught me how I want to live if I ever walk partially in her shoes.
The other shining light is my mom. She was quite diligent about her health, but still diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. During her journey, she cared for herself and continued to care for others. She became a volunteer at a nursing home to nourish others while she was nourishing herself doing what she loved. Her illness was in such a late stage that ultimately she would pass from it, but complications from chemotherapy got to her first- an infection ensued and we brought her home to hospice to honor her wishes.
One of the experiences with my mom that left a profound impact on me was when she got jaundice as a result of cancer spreading to her other organs. She was a bright orangish yellow color, but that didn’t stop her. She loved the beach and I remember walking on the boardwalk with her and my sister and people gazing at her color. It didn’t faze her, she was living life and doing what she loved, taking the ocean air in and simply being. Up until her last days in hospice, she would start every day asking her nurses: “How are you doing today?” even when she could barely speak due to the infection in her mouth. She lived with dignity and showed up authentically until her last days. The memory of my mother is forever etched in my mind and she moves me forward each day in my life.
So go back to Stuart Scott’s quote. Did these to amazing, inspirational women lose their battle? I think not. What they did was find purpose in their illness so that they could leave those they left behind on this earth with lessons to pay forward to others with love and compassion.
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