I was mostly calm as we left the house. Even as we navigated the tail end of rush hour traffic, found a parking stall three buildings and a 10-minute walk away, and made our way to the chemo clinic, (which, for reasons I disclosed on Instagram, I now affectionately refer to as “daycare”).
I was mostly calm as we sat in the waiting room, were met and welcomed by a nurse and directed to my chair for the day. Even as she checked her instruments, needles, tape and tourniquets and hung bags of chemo drugs and saline on the IV stand beside me.
I was mostly calm as she talked to me about what the next few hours would look like. Even as she outlined the symptoms of a reaction, what I needed to look for, where the emergency call button was and pointed out the reassuring presence of IV anti-histamine at the ready.
I was mostly calm as she found a vein and slid the catheter effortlessly in. We laughed as she complimented my excellent and easy-to-access veins. They are, indeed, a lab tech’s dream—I’ve been told so on multiple occasions. It’s almost as though God knew I’d need them in this way at some point.
But as she programmed the IV drip and set the cytotoxins and fluids in motion, I had a moment. I couldn’t catch my breath as tears threatened to fall. And, I had no words, which usually—when I’m anxious—tumble out of me unfettered.
Chris took my hand. And Grace (yes, my nurse’s name was Grace!) put her hand reassuringly on my arm and said, in her best authoritative/compassionate voice (in which nurses and teachers excel) “Everything is going to be okay.”
Since my CLL diagnosis almost four years ago, I’ve received a lot of messages, but the one that I hear most often is “you’re so brave.” I’ll be honest, it’s not a comment that sits comfortably with me.
I don’t see myself as particularly brave. I see myself stuck with a diagnosis that I neither asked for nor want and that’s just the way life is sometimes. Not brave as much as making the best of it.
I recall sitting in my living room a couple of years ago with a friend. Sipping tea with this beautiful 35-year-old woman who, little more than a year earlier, had been given a terminal diagnosis and a 10-month prognosis—Stage 4 cancer that was rapidly stealing her life. Her kids are roughly the same age as mine.
She confessed to me that she hated when people told her how brave she was. It made her blood boil. “There’s nothing brave about this,” she said to me. “If it was my choice, this is not something I would choose. I would trade it away in a heartbeat.”
Her words resonated with me, even though my diagnosis is vastly different than hers. The truth is, on most days, I don’t feel brave. I just feel like I’m showing up and doing what I need to do.
But every now and then, I ask myself: Would I trade away this diagnosis and the life experience and perspective it’s given me?
In truth, I don’t think I would. (However, my prognosis remains pretty good, so maybe my answer would be different if my doctors had given me 10 months to live, instead of 10-plus years.) I still don’t think this puts me in the category of brave, but it has allowed me to soften the way I think about bravery.
A friend reminded me this past Sunday that the way I’ve chosen to approach my diagnosis is, in fact, brave. Meeting the challenges head-on, with a positive attitude and leaning heavily into my faith – these are the things that have defined my journey to this point. (God bless friends who offer a different perspective at just the right time.)
The fact is this: I know a lot of people who are living and loving bravely in the midst of really hard things just by virtue of the fact that they keep showing up. They would probably not identify themselves as brave people. Rather, like me, they would likely tell you that they’re simply doing what they need to do.
How brave then are all of us?
Meeting the challenges life puts before us head-on and showing up again and again. There is no distinction or hierarchy that sets one’s difficulties above another. Everybody’s hard looks different. Everybody’s brave looks different.
“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.
But sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.”
~Veronica Roth, Allegiant
Do you find yourself gritting your teeth through the pain, and the work of every day, slowly walking toward a better life? You are not alone.
And perhaps–more importantly–you are brave.
If you take nothing else away from this post, remember these two things:
Don’t allow comparison to minimize your victory. It doesn’t matter if someone else’s struggle looks easier or worse than yours on the surface; what matters is: did you show up today despite your current circumstances? Yes? Then celebrate!
Know that you are not alone. My faith constantly reminds me that I am not alone and that I do not need to be afraid. My ability to approach my circumstances bravely is directly linked to my belief that I have a God who is working all things together for my ultimate good.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” ~Romans 8:28
That He has a plan for me that was written before I was even a twinkle in my mother’s eye (Or irritating speck, as the case occasionally is.)
“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” ~Psalm 139:16
That no matter how dire or dark the circumstances seem, I am never alone.
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” ~Psalm 23:4 (NLT)
Seven days after my first round of chemo, I want to share a few things with you:
First, I feel great! I am so grateful that my first round—and now recovery—is going better than I could have hoped or dreamed.
Perhaps it’s a case of “set your expectations low and you can’t be disappointed…” (which was a legit consideration as I was mentally preparing for all the possible outcomes) but I also know that my experience was answered prayer in the form of zero adverse reactions to one of the chemo drugs I was warned would surely elicit a reaction, given my “hefty” white blood count.
My energy levels have been good—I even went back to Spin class on Saturday—and have not experienced the crash of fatigue I was warned would come. (Though, maybe that’s still coming? We’ll see… there are a few things “still coming.” Stay tuned.)
In any case, Praise God!
Looking forward, I’m told that each round will be slightly harder than the previous, as my immune system will take a beating each time and I will recover slightly less with each round. But, I’m just going to sit and enjoy this Round One victory awhile before I cross the Round Two bridge, which will be mid-October if all my lab work comes back as expected.
Second, thank you to each one of you who has read my story and shared in this journey in some way. A million thank yous to the people who have taken time to pen a quick note or share a comment on Social Media; though you are not physically present, and some of you I have never met in person, I know that you all comprise an army that is behind me as I head into this battle. That is such a powerful thing.
Last, consider this:
We’ve heard it all said before,
“Everybody is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.”
The truth is, most of us carry our battles and our wounds on the inside. Clearly, not everyone is willing to put their stuff out on the Internet, but it doesn’t mean they’re not hurting or in need of some encouragement.
What a beautiful thing it would be if we would all take the time to encourage the people around us in the same way you have encouraged me throughout my journey.
It doesn’t have to be long, or extravagant, or even articulate. But there is amazing power in knowing we don’t journey alone.
Will you do this with me this week? Look at the people around you and just send a few random “I’m thinking of you” or “I appreciate you” notes or texts or Instagram comments. In whatever way the spirit moves, follow it! I promise it will make a world of difference to someone.
If you’ve enjoyed this little musing, it would mean the world to me if you subscribe to receive future blog posts. On the sidebar of my homepage, you’ll find a Subscribe button. Feel free to enter your email and use it! Thank you to those of you who’ve trusted me with your inbox.
I’m doing my best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. I’d be so honoured to share the journey with you. Putting one foot in front of the other, and—hopefully—not in my mouth.
Based on my previous track record, I don’t promise that my posts will be consistent, or inconsistent, but I’ll try for amusing. At the very least, I hope you’ll come away encouraged and feeling a little better about yourself.
Thanks so much for visiting,