Last night, I attended a benefit for a young lady fighting lymphoma. She’s a member of my daughter’s theater company, a smiling thirteen-year-old named Ella. She was diagnosed in June, and now wears the bald head and scarf typical of chemotherapy patients. She has a long fight ahead of her, but she faces it with her characteristic smile. If a positive attitude can defeat cancer, she will triumph.
Last weekend, a woman from my church lost her battle with breast cancer. After more than a year of fighting, she and her family made the decision to stop treatment a few months ago, to give her body a chance to heal itself if it would, or if not to give her a little while to enjoy her family without the constant exhaustion and nausea of chemo. She and her family were able to create an opportunity in which they knew roughly when the end would come–a privilege many of us never have. Her exit was as graceful as her life.
We make much of the courage of cancer patients. As one who has been in that position myself, I think it’s a little bit exaggerated; overcoming cancer takes the same kind of courage you need to get up day after day for a decade and fight traffic to get to a job you need, but don’t want. It takes the same kind of courage you need to get up two or three times a night for years to raise small children. It’s the courage to focus on a goal and resolve to endure what you must to reach it. The goal may be health or financial independence or children who can thrive on their own one day, but the everyday grind of facing things we’d rather not face in order to have what we want one day is much the same.
The choices are the same, too. When you build a career, you get up every day and go to work because if you don’t, your family loses its home. When you raise children, you get up and take care of them because if you don’t, they might not make it to adulthood. When you fight cancer, you get up and go in for your treatments because if you don’t, your life is likely to end much sooner than you want it to.
I say this not to diminish the courage of cancer patients. I don’t have the power to do that. I say it merely to point out that you have access to the same well of courage that is available to Ella, and the woman from my church, and everyone else who has ever faced a terrifying diagnosis. You have the same opportunity to focus your efforts and face your future. You have the same opportunity to visualize what you want and resolve to endure what you must to get there.
Take advantage of your opportunity. Find a goal to work toward, and start down your road. Take one step, then another.
One day, you may look back and find that the kind of intrepid courage you always admired was yours all along.
[Ella’s family has a GoFundMe page here, if you’re interested in supporting her fight.]