Sometimes I am just astonished by what people are capable of – and I mean this in a good way – well, I guess I’m equally astonished at the evil that lurks in people, but that’s a different story. Today I want to talk about my friend Judy and millions of other women just like her who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Up until Judy was diagnosed six months ago I had a very peripheral view of breast cancer and its implications, particularly to the patient. I guess the truth is, I still have only a peripheral view. Until it happens to you, you can never really understand or know what it’s like. What I have learned though by watching Judy is the amazing strength and focus that it takes to “deal” with all that surrounds this diagnosis. She doesn’t know it, but she and every woman in her shoes has taught me some incredible lessons.
1. We make time for what’s important – Really!
If someone told me today that I needed to block two hours of time tomorrow, four the next day, two the day after that, six the day after that, two next Monday afternoon and two on Wednesday, then 90 minutes everyday for the next three months, and so on and so on – oh and by the way these time slots all have to take place during working hours – I would probably say, like most of you, I don’t have time for that. I have a job, I have a family, I have other appointments, other commitments, I’m going on vacation, Wednesdays are bad, I have class on Tuesdays…Well tough, it doesn’t matter what you thought your plans for the next six months were going to be – this is your new reality. It’s hard enough you have just been dealt this blow – you have cancer – now you have to turn your life upside down to meet it head on.
What I learned by watching and listening to my friend Judy is, when there is no choice, we make time for what’s really important. In the case of a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s kind of a no-brainer that you put your life on hold and you deal with what you need to deal with. But how many other times in our lives do we let our busy lives dictate where our attention and our time goes. This lesson has shown me that prioritizing my daily life is in my control and to pay attention to what’s “really” important, because if it’s important enough I do have time.
2. We under estimate our capabilities.
I think about the number of times in my life that I have said, “I could never do that”. Whether it’s skydiving, scaling mount Everest, speaking Japanese, or enduring the pains and struggles of another human being. What’s true is, there are some things in life that we are never prepared for, we don’t get training for and there are no handy online courses to take before hand. Somethings, like a cancer diagnosis, we just simply are thrown into and we have to do what it takes to be a survivor.
There’s an inspiring lesson in watching ordinary women accomplish extraordinary things. When “not doing” is no longer an option we find out what we are truly capable of.
3. Sometimes even Super Woman needs help
I don’t know about you but, asking for help is not something I do well. I don’t think I’m alone in this, especially among other women. We have been brought up to be the caregivers, not the takers. Over the past three decades women as a whole have worked very hard to be independent, to do it on their own and to prove to the world that we are capable of managing our own lives. So, asking for help or even excepting help that is offered sometimes feels like a step backwards.
What I have learned from Judy’s experience is, people in your life love you and care about you and want to help. Helping you is how they cope with the pain and struggles you as a patient are going through. When we refuse help, whether in an emergency or just in simple daily life, we deprive our friends and loved ones of fulfilling their role in our lives. It’s become more clear to me that asking for help is much less about me and more about those who are there to support me.
We live in a society-which comes from the Latin work socius meaning, friend or ally. We all need allies, especially in times of trouble. The relationships of allies is a reciprocal one, so when we refuse or hesitate help from our allies we run the risk of sending the message – “I don’t need your help, so don’t count on mine.”
I’m grateful that Judy has allowed her allies to be there for her and to help in our own way. She’s helped me to be a better ally and to ask for help when I need it.
4. We’re all in it together
The crazy truth about breast cancer is, no one is outside the reach. We likely all know someone who is touched by it in some way. As I listened to Judy tell about her experience I could not help but think about all of those people who have played a role in the path that has brought us to this point in the treatment of breast cancer;
The countless women who came before her
The doctors and scientists who have studied for years in search of treatments and cures
The millions of volunteers who have raised funds for research by walking, biking, swimming, hiking, climbing mountains, bowling, dancing…you name it, there are allies out there tirelessly working to support the dream of a cure.
The lesson I learn from this is simple, as a society, we don’t accomplish astonishing things alone, and together we are a force. And the truly beautiful thing is, it’s working! Progress is being made everyday, treatments are working, women are surviving, and everyday we get a little bit closer to the cure.
The story of my friend Judy is a happy story. A week ago she learned that her body was free of cancer. She is a survivor. And as her ally I am forever grateful for that. I also realize this may not be the case if not for the many many women who came before her and the mighty efforts of all who play a role in finding the cure.
This post is dedicated to my hero’s who have taught me these lessons; Judy, Loie, Clara and Barb (you’re next Barb!)