Throughout my cancer journey these past 5 years, I have been called “strong” many times. So much so that I was wondering what does it even mean to be “strong”? Where does strength come from? I’m not talking about physicaI strength here. I am talking of emotional, spiritual, and mental strength. The inner type we all at one time or another, have to lean on.
Having been in and out of hospitals and cancer centers, I have seen unbelievable strength come from some of the frailest of sources. Is strength in that patient, enduring surgeries, and radiation burns and blistering? Is it dealing with chemo side effects of vomiting, and fatigue so bad they can barely walk to the bathroom without having to lie down? Are they “strong” when they shave their head because their hair started to fall out in clumps? Or maybe they are strong when the doctor tells them their cancer has spread and the treatments they just struggled through the past 8 months didn’t do a thing.
Is strength in that patient who only weighs 80 pounds now, and sleeps 20 hours a day but still gets the poisons of chemotherapy pumped through their frail veins hoping that a miracle will take place? Or is the one with the strength her caregiver: Her husband who holds her hand and tells her funny stories just to see the memory of a smile in the face he loves; who waits until she is asleep to get something to eat, or to escape to his car to cry and wonder how he will live without her? Is the strong one the parents who watch their 50 year old “baby” suffer through constant pain while still worrying about how everyone else is doing?
Is inner strength reserved for only those who have suffered great loss? Do people consider me “incredibly strong” because on top of living with stage 4 breast cancer, I live with the loss of my only sibling; my sister Kim, who was strangled to death by her husband of 20 years? Does taking in my nephew and testifying at a trial while having another round of chemo make me Supergirl? I don’t think so. Yes I have lost much, but there are people in this world who have suffered so much more than I have. Is the homeless man who once had a lucrative job but got downsized and lost all he had, surviving another winter on the streets “strong”? Or is the man who brings him a hot coffee every morning the “strong” one because he knows this homeless man won’t accept more than the coffee, and he worries that one morning his friend won’t be there?
Strength, I have learned comes in many different packages and refuses to fit any set mold. It is in the tiniest of things and in the greatest of things. It comes from places you wouldn’t expect it to. It appears in you when all your life you have thought you could never survive “that”. I don’t think of myself as strong. I think I am just doing what I have to do to live the best life I can day by day. I mean, when you think about it, what’s the alternative; digging a hole and lying in it waiting for death? Well that’s stupid!
I hope that none of you has to call on your inner strength for anything big. But if you do, or if you are going through something that is requiring a lot of strength at the moment. know you are not alone. I pray you keep finding strength to deal with what you must. I pray that all of us can reach a day when we can just be normal, boring, “weak” people!