Reality knocked on my door in a big way this summer when I got a call about a friend from college. We lived on the same hall freshman year, pledged together, gained the “freshman fifteen” together and, though our lives took us in different directions, we always were connected. She had just received the news that she been diagnosed with breast cancer and had made the brave decision to have a double mastectomy. Shock, fear, heartbreak, tears all came at once. She, on the other hand was composed and strong stating that she would be fine, that they had found it early and the prognosis was good. Most importantly, she let me know that it would not define her. She was consoling me, telling me that she would be fine. Right then, listening to her soft, reassuring voice I understood the true meaning of courage.
It is doing something afraid. My beautiful friend is doing that every day and that’s not easy. But no one ever said that it would be and so we are left with the opportunity to choose our path and either smile as we walk over the rocks and stumps that are in our way or complain about what is under our feet.
Courage is an extraordinary quality, but I have found that it also exists in the ordinary of everyday life. It’s not only for those who risk their life in seemly no win situations, it’s also just getting up in the morning and making the coffee and having hope for a better today.
A lot of the time we define courage as being physically strong and having not an ounce of fear even in the most terrifying situations. Like knights going in to battle, swords drawn ready to save the kingdom or the damsel in distress. Sure they look all shiny and handsome in that armor but you can’t tell me that more than one of those guys wasn’t sweating under his chain link t-shirt.
Most of the time we find courage when and where we least expect it, when our backs are against the wall and we have to choose between crumbling to the ground or squaring our shoulders and forging ahead. It’s not an easy choice. When things get hard I want to pull the covers over my head and not confront the reality that is slapping me in the face.
But hiding never solves anything and just usually leaves you with a bigger mess to clean up later. These women and men who are fighting this disease, this cancer, do not have the luxury to crawl up in a ball and wait for it all to go away.
They are backed up in a corner and are choosing to fight and to overcome and this is what is getting them through, their internal strength and determination. They are going into battle, swords drawn and ready to take down the enemy. Do they have moments of wanting to hide? I am sure that they do but the will to fight takes over and pushes them through. And that is why I call them Hero’s. Most will say that they are not, that they are just doing what they need to do to get better, to be with their family and friends and, in some cases to just make it through the day. But they are Hero’s because they will not give up.
I have heard cancer called the big “C.” Maybe it was in conversation or when I watched Sex in the City and Samantha had been diagnosed. I refuse to give that word that much power because the people who are fighting this are so much bigger than the disease.
My children will always ask (in their not so discrete way) when they see a bald woman with a bandana on or a small child without hair “Mom, do they have cancer?” The next time they ask I am going to gather them around me and look them in the eye and reply, “no, they have Courage.”
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