I’ve been preparing for a speech for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life at University of San Francisco (more on that in another post) and wondering how to condense my story, inspire, and be relevant all in 10 minutes. So I researched, watched other speakers, and tried to absorb how they went about sharing and inspiring. I clicked on one woman’s video–she looked about my age, but she was still in treatment so wearing a gorgeous headscarf–and I sat perfectly still as she told her story about breast cancer. She had a four month old daughter at the time when she was diagnosed, and she cried as she thanked her husband, her daughter, and her community and talked about her faith and swore to keep fighting. I wanted to know how she was doing, imagining her and her daughter and husband at a park, or at church, or making dinner.
And in this age of Google, one click and there it was: her obituary. I don’t think I took a breath for a few minutes. Her obituary. She was 42. It rocked me, and rocked me in a way that spurs me to keep speaking and sharing my story: women–and young people–are still dying from cancer. Mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, friends, companions are dying.
I live in gratitude now in a way I never did before, I cherish each day as I’m supposed to. That’s what everyone tells you; you say the word survivor and they pat you on the arm and nod knowingly. But they don’t know. They don’t know that some days you might still have a streak of fear, that your heart stops when you read an obituary or hear the word recurrence. That you can grieve for body parts you lost and for time lost. And grieve for those you’ve never even met because you can imagine yourself there. My sister sent me this poem (below) that very same day, by coincidence, a poem that so beautifully conveys the flow of grief.
I still need these reminders, these nudges that say: keep going. Keep going to raise money for research, support, and outreach. So this is for you, Tania in Iowa. Tonight is for you.
Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding.
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated