Living through Adversity

Today’s post comes to us from Crystal Bay.

I’m in the process of publishing a book that is a compilation of a year’s worth of journals on Caring Bridge during my battle with cancer. I thought I would share just the introduction with you.

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It was a day like any other, getting up to drink coffee, check out the news on digital reading online. Two days earlier, I’d seen my primary care doctor for a complaint about chronic constipation.  As he was exiting the exam room, I thought to mention that, once in a while, my daily medications got stuck in my throat.  He turned around and said, “I want you to have an endoscopy this week. Don’t worry – 99% of the time it’s nothing”.

On January 20th, two days after the endoscopy, the gastroenterologist who’d done the procedure called me. She said, “I’m sorry, but you have esophageal cancer”.  Just like that. No “Come in with a friend or family member because there’s a concern about your test results”. Only, “I’m sorry but you have esophageal cancer”.

Never having heard of this kind of cancer, I immediately googled it. What I read in the first few articles basically informed me that I would be more likely to die than to live with this highly fatal type of cancer. This didn’t scare me; it astonished me.  Reading something which basically says you’ll probably die is surreal.  From this moment on, I never dwelled on this probability.  I still haven’t.

For me, seeing a small white spot on a PET scan was in no way a threat to my life; it was just a white spot. How could a little white spot on a scan kill me???

This whole thing made me intensely curious and I researched endless hours to meet my new, unwelcomed internal guest. Never once did I grasp, much less react to, this as a real threat to my life.  It was simply a white spot on a scan.

What I did realize almost immediately was that this diagnosis was a very big deal and that most people hearing it would trip them into fear, panic, anxiety, and generally into feeling powerless. I recognized that this would be a “normal” reaction to hearing a diagnosis of the big “C”, regardless of which type.  For some unfathomable reason, my gut rejected falling into a victim space.

I’d learned a long time ago that the story we make up about any situation will determine how we deal with it. I decided right then and there that I’d make up a story which would carry me through as best as possible, and it sure as hell wasn’t the version of crumbling into fear or depression. No. Not me. Not my style.

Crafting a story of my choosing, I decided that this would be the journey of my lifetime no matter how it turned out. I decided that my greatest responsibility was to my children, grandchildren, and friends.  I don’t have many friends, but have many dozens of acquaintances from my years of being the local “Dancing Grandma”.  With a vision of everyone who knew me in mind, I crafted this story:

I would soldier through with humor and curiosity. I would remain fiercely independent throughout. I would model how to face adversity. I would, if I died, show my loved ones how to do this with gusto and a semblance of dignity. I would not cave into despair no matter what. If I was going to die, I did not want people’s last vision of me to be one of a person victimized by this odd invader. No, I would not allow this to diminish my spirit even as it diminished my physical being.

Making up this story freed me from all of the emotions most cancer victims would feel. This story was so much bigger than me, and I knew it. It was about the people who loved or liked me witnessing a way to make this cancer journey without angst or helplessness. It was bigger than me, and this realization was exactly how I faced cancer with acceptance.

There’s a belief out there that we must view cancer as the “enemy” and envision it as a marauder to be conquered. A very wise friend told me, years after my encounter with esophageal cancer, that I probably survived because I didn’t make cancer an enemy.  For me, it was simply a white spot on a scan, nothing more, nothing less.  It wasn’t a friend or an enemy; it just was.  Its discovery would embark me on a journey that would enlighten me and bring gifts no other journey ever could have.  I learned how resilient I was.  I learned how to accept – even ask for – help.  I’d never before been in such a physically compromised condition that I couldn’t take care of myself. I learned that others instinctively and whole-heartedly respond when they see another human in dire need. I came to understand something I’d taught many clients but never applied to myself: helping someone in need is a gift to the giver.  I hope that I can hold onto this part of my enlightenment.

 

Has adversity brought unexpected gifts to your life?

 

 

23 thoughts on “Living through Adversity”

  1. May the good Lord open your eyes and mind, give you more strength to finish the book. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, that the cancer be heal by the power of the Holy Spirit, by faith you should receive your total healing. All believers are praying for you and your God will heal you. Amen.

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  2. Absolutely beautiful, CB — love this. A very enlightened and positive approach to what most people would believe is a death sentence. Thanks for sharing such an uplifting story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Any time we suffer a great deal, we want to believe afterward that the suffering also brought some rewards. I’m not entirely sure I think we are right, but like anyone else I want to believe my pain came with some benefits.

    I’ve never been tested in the ways you were tested, C B. Selfishly, I hope I never am. Putting that another way, I don’t want to suffer greatly even if it makes me a better person. If I had a choice on this, I’d rather go on being highly imperfect but relatively content. After all these years I’ve gotten used to my flaws, and there is something to be said for familiar character defects.

    There was publicity last week about a surprisingly pleasing graduation speech. I say “surprisingly” because the speaker was Supreme Court Head Justice John Roberts, and I expect to disagree with him more than I did when I read this. If you haven’t read the speech, you might find it an interesting pairing with CB’s moving story. Here is a link: http://time.com/4845150/chief-justice-john-roberts-commencement-speech-transcript/

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  4. Many “cleaver” things in here, CB, but most of all the acceptance. That is also part of what has gotten me through our son Joel’s death, and it came in this form – God (whatever I perceive him/her/it to be) does not want me to be sad for the rest of my life. Once I understood that, I was able to move on with my life.

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  5. I have always liked the line from Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye asks God that perhaps he could choose some other people to be His “chosen” ones for a while.

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    1. Thank you. Oddly enough, the three best writers I’ve ever personally known in my life are my brother, Steve, my son, Steve, and my dad. My post today will likely be the introduction to my “Dancing with Cancer” book, a compilation of 350 pages worth of daily Caring Bridge entries that first year. I’m seriously moving toward publishing it. I honestly cannot imagine going through that without the release of putting it all into the written word. I like the idea that my ability to express and describe my own cancer journey might help others get through their own battles with the Big C.

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    1. That’s funny. Part of me always smiles when I read about the “courage” of people who fought cancer. Obviously, nobody volunteers for that sort of fight, and I am not always sure it makes sense to celebrate courage when fate thrusts us into a nasty fight. And yet, to turn things around, it seems entirely appropriate to cheer when someone who never wanted to be in a fight manages to conduct that fight bravely and with humor. Several of our beloved Baboons can claim that.

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      1. Well, when you have cancer, what else do you do but suck it up and get treatment. Hiding under the bed has proven not to work. My experience was that it was not courage, it was the only choice available.

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    1. Good question, Renee. I don’t think so. Of course, it is a good thing if we can reduce the suffering of others by handling a difficult situation well. But at the same time, it simply is good to deal with bad things as positively as we can. We don’t get to deal the cards. Someone else does the dealing. We just play the cards as well as we can. But I don’t like that word “just” in that sentence. Playing our cards well–with courage, humor, pluck and all–is living well, and it is the best we can do.

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  6. cb
    great start
    i am a big advocate out of making lemonade
    i have said here many times my kids are instructed to the lessons taught by doing it the wrong way
    it’s some of my best stuff
    i shake the dice hope for the best and shudder a bit when it works out the wrong way
    one foot in front forge other and goals r us is how i thrive
    my goal is to put it on autopilot one day in the decade after this but i don’t expect to go dormant just to start my week a month travel schedule to help me ease into my last 5 or 6 decades
    i am really looking forward to it
    i will go back and read the previous 2 days
    i hate it when i’m gone but now i’m back

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