“You are so brave.”
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I heard this a lot. From friends when I called to tell them the news, or my colleagues as I kept working through my treatments, or family pep talks as I struggled with the emotional ups and downs of treatments that continued for years. I was “so brave”.
Being described as brave was something new for me (one of many “new” experiences as a cancer patient), as I had never been someone who seemed particularly bold or courageous. I didn’t jump off bridges, or hike off the trail, or go camping for a month by myself (hello Anneke!). I’ve never lived in a city where I didn’t speak the language, or travelled on my own. I lived a life that was carefully coloured inside the lines.
But when cancer smacked me in the face, I had to be the kind of brave that you need to be when you’re fighting for your life.
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, bravery is your only choice. It’s life or death, and no options for deciding whether or not you’re brave enough to try to live. You wouldn’t go to treatments that take your hair, your dignity, and your sense of self. You wouldn’t swallow the pills that stop you from sleeping or make food taste awful. You wouldn’t leave the house in the middle of winter with a bald head and submit yourself to the staring or random (sometimes hurtful) comments from strangers.
Bravery is doing what we know needs to be done, even if we’re afraid. We’re the only person who is able to fight for our life.
People who choose bravery don’t think it’s bravery in the moment.
It’s just the next step forward.
– Todd Henry
This disease uncovered strength I never knew I had. It showed me that in the most difficult moments of my life, I can find the small shreds of determination I need to move forward. To get out of bed and go to work. To laugh again. To share my story in the hope of helping others when they are afraid.
Make no mistake – not every day was a shining example of courage and strength. As my husband can attest, there were many days of tears, of “why me” sadness, and hiding under the covers. But when those moment passed, it was time to get back out into the world and face the disease again. There was no way cancer was going to take my life.
Uncovering this strength has fueled new bravery in other parts of my life through the almost 15 years of living with this disease. I am stronger than I ever thought was possible.
Our decision to have children despite the unknowns of my prognosis was fueled by that new strength. Starting my business was powered, in part, by the knowledge that I could figure it out. It couldn’t be any harder than surviving cancer, right? If my life was to be shortened by this disease, I was determined to make it a life of meaning and purpose. I couldn’t waste a moment pursuing anything less than a life that mattered to me.
It’s worth it to fight for a life of quality, of significance to you. Bravery might mean facing the realities of an unhappy life, and making the difficult, uphill choices to rebuild a life with passion. I wish others could find the strength to create a life they love before a life-threatening illness forces them to reevaluate. Or worse, steals their life before they have that chance.
Sure, you say. You make it sound easy. My life isn’t like that. I don’t have the same options you have.
This could very well be true. But flash forward six months from now, and you’re wake up in a hospital from a heart attack you barely survived. Now what? Are you fighting your way back to the life you have today, or will that health crisis be the trigger that finally makes you say enough is enough?
Why do we wait for crisis or tragedy before we are brave enough to fight for the life we want?
Take one step forward. Today.
Start by writing it down. Take a few minutes today, somewhere free of distractions, and write down what your life would be like if you small steps today towards a better path. What needs to change? What would you be doing instead? What contributions are you hiding from the world? Who would benefit if you were brave enough to pursue a life that fulfilled those dreams?
How does it feel to be in that life?
Then, what’s the first, small, courageous step forward you need to take?
Bravery comes when you make a decision to let nothing get in your way of creating a life that matters to you. It begins with having the courage to picture it, and then taking that first step forward before a catastrophic moment forces you to do it.
Today is always first day of the rest of your life. Be brave, and take that first step forward.