What is the Real C Word?

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

I won’t even pretend to think it’s a novel idea to switch the C Word from Cancer to Courage. I am too pissed off right now to care about clever or unique approaches to addressing the insidious nature of cancer.

Let me get one thing straight. This post isn’t about me. I don’t have cancer and pray I never do, though, the odds aren’t necessarily in my favor. My father had prostate cancer and my mother died from brain cancer. We’ll see what fate befalls me.

Rather, this is about the countless friends — many of whom are in my age group (50ish) — who are battling cancer. Some have lost the battle, others have scored victory after victory and others are just drafting their battle plans.

What prompted me to write this was the news that someone I have known for more than 30 years was diagnosed with cancer. She is a sweet person and someone I have always admired as a writer and a kind human being.

One can only imagine the fear she is facing as she prepares to do battle with the cancer that afflicts her body. But one thing was clear when I read the news of her diagnosis on her Facebook page. This person, while fearful of the battle yet to come, also possessed a trait that I know will serve her well in the days, weeks and months to come: Courage.

First and foremost, it was the courage to go public on Facebook, not just to announce her diagnosis but to humbly request her friends to pray for her during this battle.

Courage is often interpreted as something akin to an individual’s ability to overcome incredible adversity. It can also be interpreted as an individual’s acknowledgement that they cannot wage a battle alone.

When my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008 there was a time after the tumor was removed that, as a family, we were preparing to do battle against the cancer. I studied up on treatments and prepared to help my mother in her battle. However, when my father suddenly died the dynamics changed for my mother.

Instead of courageously taking on a cancer that she had little chance of beating my mother made a courageous choice to not fight. On the surface that may sound like defeat but, knowing how stubborn and ornery my mother could be, I viewed it as a courageous move on her part. It was as though she was telling cancer: “I will die on my own terms.”

I learned then and have witnessed it many times since that courage is multi-faceted. For some of my friends it’s represented by their steely resolve to wage a seemingly unwinnable battle against cancer. Some ooze confidence that speaks “Don’t worry, I’ve got this handled.”

Other friends have taken a less strident approach to battling cancer but have been courageous nonetheless.

What matters is these people are being courageous on their own terms.

Their courage, no matter what form it takes, not only inspires me but also gives me hope that, in the end, the human spirit will overcome cancer.

I know this is an altruistic view and it diminishes the role science is playing in finding cures. This, however, is not about cures. This is about people’s courage to face cancer on their own terms, no matter what happens in the end.

Good luck and know that being courageous does not mean you have to battle cancer alone. Know that you have friends who will pray for you and stand with you during these tough times.

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