I work side-by-side with a very sweet, warm woman who, last year at this time, underwent a radical mastectomy after being diagnosed at Thanksgiving with advanced stage breast cancer. Within a week of “Meredith’s” diagnosis, word came from the East Coast that her mother had advanced stage pancreatic cancer. Oomph.
Meredith pulled through her surgery and the resulting complications with barely missing a beat at work. I can honestly say that I hardly ever had to pick up any additional slack because of her illness, surgery or recovery. I have no idea how she juggled it all. Almost as soon as she was back on her feet and fully recovered physically, her mother passed away before Meredith could get back home. But again, she mustered what was left of her strength and pushed through the ensuing grief and emotional pain with hardly a misstep. Never once did I hear her complain that life was unfair or that she couldn’t go on.
I hear people refer all the time to breast-cancer “survivors” and “survivors” of violence and “survivors” of divorce — it seems to be a general term linked to the worst that life throws at us. But, to me, it suggests a passivity that I find mildly irritating. Because the truth is, lots of people do a lot more than survive what life throws at them; a lot of people face those challenges head-on and emerge better and stronger and more intact spiritually than they were before the crisis befell them. Meredith did not merely survive her cancer — she kicked its butt soundly. She refused to allow it to change who she was or to make her bitter or to define her. She accepted it and met the challenge and pushed back with everything at her disposal. I admire her attitude enormously. She is definitely more than a survivor. She is a warrior.
survivor: (n.) one who survives; a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.
warrior: (n.) a person engaged or experienced in warfare, soldier; a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness.
Which would you rather be?
Lisa Arends, over at Lessons From the End of a Marriage, wrote a great post about rediscovering her inner warrior recently. In that post, she expressed some similar sentiments and made some other, very good points. I think how we define ourselves in the midst of our struggles is very important to how we tackle those struggles. Are we a victim of our circumstances? Or are we drivers on a road with many obstacles in front of us that we must do our best to go around or through?
I think that we all feel beaten down by life at times. Sometimes really bad things happen to really good people. None of us is exempt from tragedy or pain or suffering or illness or injustice. They happen. I think the real test of character is in how we handle them when they do…
My girls and I have a favorite YouTube video. It features some cancer patients and nurses at the Seattle Children’s Hospital singing and dancing along to Kelly Clarkson’s hit, “Stronger.” When I first saw it last spring, it gave me chills — I mean, is there anything more tragic than a seriously ill child? Or more inspiring than that same child facing her illness with a smile and a song? My girls and I have talked at length about the video and how and why it inspires and awes us. Those children and the women who care for them each day are most definitely warriors.
When I look around me, I see so many amazing people with similar stories of a life dotted with tragedy or pain or failure of some sort. And I see that most of them have not let those moments define who they are. They, like Meredith, have refused to become identified by one moment or circumstance in their lives. They are a tapestry of moments and circumstances, rich and layered, and stronger for the challenges put before them. They experience fear and insecurity and self-doubt, but that does not define them, either, because they push forward anyway.
So, whatever unsavory stuff came your way over this last year, why not grab it, take one last look at it, and then let it go? Meredith and I have talked about how glad we’ll both be to see 2012 in the rearview mirror, but we’ve also talked about how it will not be the year that changed everything. Nope. It will simply be another year of learning and growing and facing things neither of us wanted in our lives but got anyway.
And emerging stronger because of it.
Video bonus: Seattle Children’s Hospital’s version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”