Ever notice the comments people make when extraordinary hardship befalls another? They might say, “You’re so strong, so brave.” In the unfortunate person’s absence, those words translate differently: “I could never go through that!” My response? It’s not like so-and-so had a choice, decided they could and volunteered.
Who knows why we get cancer, but I’m certain one of the reasons is not innate bravery. No application process exists to weed out the meek from the daring, sending the weaker elements home to deal with lesser problems. Unlike enlisting in the military, it’s more like being drafted and there’s no way out but through.
At best, it’s like mandatory reading of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Once inside, there are choices in treatment, second opinions, and a person’s own unique factors that all weigh in a course of action. But let’s be clear: We are not brave; we are chosen.
I often get the BRAVE tag slapped on my lapel. In truth, if I fought a valiant battle, it’s not because I was brave; it’s because I was scared — scared for my life.
The day before my first chemo, I sat alone in my office, unable to work. The fear of the imminent sliced through me, rendering me into a thousand fragments of what used to be a together person. My hands visibly shook while I gut-sobbed at my desk. I had to call my son, a wise and compassionate young man who knew just what to say to give me strength.
This is what a “brave” soul looks like. Not a morning person, and even less enthused about what waited inside, trepidation colored my face as I anticipated walking through the doors of that building to receive my first infusion. Of course, I got used to it, but being a chemo virgin, I was somewhat shy.
Everyone’s different. I certainly wasn’t Marisa Ococella Marchetto, author of the wonderful, Cancer Vixen, who dressed stylishly to every chemo. I wore clothes to throw up in, and judging from what occurred several hours later, I’d say I made a good call.
At least I’m equipped with blanket and book bag slung over my shoulder. What’s in the bag? A couple of books, phone, notepad and … oh, crap! Where’s a set of balls when I need ’em!
We often rise up toward strength because we have no choice but to meet our demons head-on and duke it out. We discover we can handle more than we knew. We learn that, yes, we can go through it after all, even if we wish we never found that out.
So we put one foot in front of the other just to keep moving because moving is what living things do. Running is what scared things do, and even that is done to stay alive.
For those enlisted in the boot camp of illness, no amount of moxie can prepare for what lies ahead. Cancer knocks on our door and drags us from the house while we kick and scream, digging our heels so deep into the carpet, we get permanent rug burns. And you thought it was from the rads.