ANOTHER CANCER GIFT
A dear friend gave me a necklace last night that said ‘SURVIVOR’ on it. Normally this type of gift with this type of word on it would cause me eye rolling and embarrassment as I would chalk up yet another cliché word to the world of cancer gifts.
I had already seen on her sister, but her sister’s said LOVE LOVE LOVE and I had commented on how much I liked it. My friend, who had bought this gift for me as a Christmas gift decided not to wait and instead give it to me last night. She offered it to me with such love and prayer in her eyes. I knew this gift was thoughtful and filled with grace as she eagerly commanded, “Put it on!” I awkwardly followed her direction and placed it over my head where the tag planted itself right between my new fake breasts. Solid. Strong. Hearty. I love a long necklace. I love a long metal necklace like this one. But this word… I wasn’t sure I could have it be a part of my future adornments, but I love my friend and I love her light, her kindness, her intention. I was humbled by her caring eyes and her expression of love in this gift so I kept it on as I walked home last night thinking that I would take it off and hang it somewhere in my house as an ornament rather than a piece of jewelry.
I woke up this morning and I went downstairs to get some coffee and sit on the porch as I do every single morning, my partner with the paper, me with my laptop getting ready to type away my thoughts. As I went to reach for my glasses, my eye caught the necklace. SURVIVOR. It occurred to me that this word is so much more than cancer. So much more than a silly pink ribbon. So much more than “You look great” and “How are you feeling?” and the awkward silence that lies after those two common phrases that often linger between two people sharing space in two totally different worlds. Not knowing what to say because cancer and survivorship seem to be the only topic now replacing, “How’s your son? How’s your hot, (yes this word is occasionally part of the question) boyfriend? How’s business? How’s your garden?” and the curiosities about life normally part of the equation BC, (before cancer).
As my fingers graced the pendant, I realized that Yes. I am a survivor. Aren’t all of us? When you are married to someone you deeply love, but you also know in your core that it is not the right fit, but you try to fit it because that is just what you do when you make the marriage commitment, you are a survivor. When you are a parent because it is hard work trying to turn out a balanced and responsible human being, you are a survivor. When you lose a sibling who is only twenty five to a rare form of cancer and when you have a mother who emails you, “I prefer you never contact me again,” and defriends you on Facebook, (that feels so juvenile to even say that aloud), you are a survivor. You are a survivor when you own a business and you get a rejection notice from a bank for a loan you know will help growth and as you are freaking out, a dear friend and mentor, Neil Ducoff says in an emotional phone conversation, “Wallow in self pity today, but tomorrow pull up your bootstraps hit the pavement and find another bank who believes in your story.” BAM. Yes. I did that. You are a survivor when you finally summon the courage after a twenty year marriage to leave it along with your house, moving three times in four years after each condo owner decides they want to sell and you don’t want to buy and in the middle of this, your business has a flood temporarily shutting down one of your operations. Then to add insult to injury, you discover in the midst of this chaos an employee has been stealing from you, not only you, but tips from your employees. Like with so many business lessons, you consider your own past mistakes returning to teach the Ghost of Christmas Past lesson you thought you had already learned from a dysfunctional family life and idiotic drug use in your early teen years.
You are a survivor when you find the house of your dreams or rather it finds you, (thank you Morgan) that will house both you, your son and your ten year old business. Its seemingly easy purchase turns into a nine month short sale of twists and turns giving you a feeling of sheer terror in one moment to sheer power the next confirming your lovely bad ass strength when the sale finally goes through. And so on and so on and so on. This is all way before a two time cancer diagnosis and way before the word as it is implied, SURVIVOR, hits my personal radar.
I am not alone in my survivorship. Everyone I know has tales and stories of their own versions of SURVIVOR. Being human is SURVIVOR. My problem is my constant minimizing of the word and its implications because of my comparisons to the “real” survivors I know and have read about. My friend, Lili who is a refugee from the Congo who had to flee her homeland with her family and somehow landed in my lovely life that pales in comparison to her traumatic events. My friends, Cathy and Lou who lost their adolescent and very healthy daughter to the flu which still seems unbelievable in our modern world of medicine. My friend and business mentor, Neil (the one who told me to pull up my bootstraps) who out riding his bike like he does almost everyday for both physical and mental strength, gets hit and thrown and lives and gets back on his bike. My employee’s friend, who has a healthy five year old one moment and then a funeral for her the next because of a random sickness the hospital couldn’t help her with. My dear friend and doctor who tragically lost her young and stunning husband and the love of her life leaving her with a tribe of young children to care for in all of their suffering. The McKenna family who lives in our quiet and easy community and lost not one but both of their sons, one in a tragic motorcycle accident when he was twenty one and then ten years later, their Green Beret son, Andrew in an attack in Kabul. No words except SURVIVOR. A resounding HELL YES.
My internal comparison list of qualifiers for identifying with the word and accepting it as my own is a hard sell. These are not my experiences, they seem so much worse than my own. A friend of mine said to me just the other day, “Alayne, you make breast cancer look easy.” WHAT? Speechless in one breath, I don’t know what to say to that. Part of “SURVIVING” for me is that life coming at you is what life is and when it does as it has, I pull up my proverbial bootstraps and hit the pavement sometimes running, sometimes walking but often crawling as we all do. What choice do we have? If you are not dead, you are alive and being alive is what the word survivor means. What we do with the trauma is how we navigate through it in our own time and we all do “it” each in our own way for no one to judge. Until we have walked in those boots, we simply do not and cannot identify with those experiences.
So today and every time I get dressed and reach for a necklace to wear, I will reach for this new bauble because I am, like all of us, a SURVIVOR and I will wear this necklace with the pride and care that surrounded its instinctual and knowing intention. Perhaps its word engraved on its metal plate will finally embed itself in my soul reminding me of the power that this experience has given me. I know I don’t really need the external symbols of power to affirm my SURVIVOR status. I have two very upright and very firm magic crystal balls permanently attached to my upper body as my personal 24/7 reminder, but there is something about owning a word as my own that gives me a deep sense of super power strength that I am finally beginning to allow. My friend must have recognized this strength in me before I did.
And I must admit, I like this new found power.