Since I began the Shift for Wellness journey back in 2013, I always felt a little awkward about defining myself; particularly as a “survivor”. Social media profiles are always asking you to define who you are. What am I supposed to write? There’s not enough room to list all the hats I wear, and who would care about them anyway. I’m then left wondering if I’m listing the right ones to attract my intended audience. I find that there’s too much pressure surrounding something that is meant to help and to heal.
I’m not quite sure why I don’t feel comfortable with the term “survivor” for myself and I certainly mean no disrespect to anyone who has adopted it for themselves. I don’t even think twice about it when I hear someone else use the term. At the time when I wasn’t well, I was certainly in survival mode, but what about those who did their damnedest to survive their journey? Those who struggled, won, and struggled some more only to lose? Weren’t they surviving each day they made it through?
During treatments, you’re surviving and sometimes barely. I remember having my doctor guiding me through breaths every time I came out of anesthesia. She coached me to breath deeper and deeper in order to come out, but it was quite nice to remain where I was. I wanted to stay there. It was so peaceful there in my little land of grog, I was more than comfortable, but I chose to listen and gave it my very best and deepest belly breaths to bring myself back in the room.
Randy Pouch hadn’t left this life yet when I wasn’t well. The Carnegie Mellon professor and I share our diagnosis date: August of 2007. Pouch began giving is Last Lecture one month later. His journey was all over the TV and I couldn’t get enough of it. Knowing full well he was not long for this life, he had something I needed. He had lessons to share from a perspective that no one else could offer. Many would have been afraid to reach for the book but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and devour every page.
I wanted to buy this book for everyone I knew but it occurred to me that people managing challenging times may not perceive the book as helpful. During our “Live Your Best Life” book chat at work, I excitedly recommended The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as one of our monthly reads. It was so incredibly inspirational to me during when I wasn’t well that I thought it would be the same for everyone else who read it. After 20 days in a coma, Bauby, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, awoke into a body which was paralyzed with the exception of this left eye. It was his nurse who discovered he was able to communicate through blinking it and she worked out an alphabet of sorts and together they wrote his memoir.
The book is small and can be easily read in a night; and yet I was surprised to see how many members of the chat didn’t read the book because it struck a chord too close to home or was too depressing for them. It was then I learned that it’s all about where you are in your life and how everyone handles life’s challenges differently. Their feelings should not be judged, only respected.
I find it fascinating how each of us is affected differently by books, movies, conversations, songs, etc. What’s important is to respect and to be sensitive to understand that what works for one may upset another. This very realization prevented me from creating Shift for Wellness many years prior to 2013. I allowed one person’s negative comment about sharing my story hold me back from sharing and helping others. I’m so sorry I allowed that to happen, and it was my One Powerful Word: FEARLESS, that kick me in the butt and helped me to move forward with the idea.
During the Shift for Wellness workshops, I introduce myself as someone who has experienced cancer, rather than referring to myself as a “survivor”. It feels better to me since the journey is a chapter in my life that allows me to help others, but does not define who I am. I am so much more than a person who has had cancer. Thankfully, I am that much more because of the journey. I was trying to hard find a way to say it in one word when creating an online profile and I’m still not certain where it will all lead me. It’s a work in progress.
Those who have experienced cancer do walk the path alone regardless of who surrounds them. They need inspiration, understanding, comfort, desire, hope, humor, drive, motivation, truth and above all else gratitude. The universe will not reward you with what you want if you do not already appreciate what you have. I will always have my journey with cancer. I will always be grateful for it. I will always honor it, but I will not be defined by it. I still find myself in search of how to refer to this time in my life without feeling awkward. I should just ask the universe and wait for my answer. I’ll let you know when I get it.