A Survivor’s Story, at Relay for Life

It’s funny.  I do a lot of talking online about cancer and survivorship and what happened, and I give talks professionally all the time, but put them together and it’s a whole new level of scary.  You see, I started talking about cancer on my blog because I wasn’t good at talking about it in real life.  I didn’t call up my girlfriends and chat casually about chemo or mastectomy … or my fears.  I typed it here instead, telling all of you, but without the risk that face-to-face emotion entails.  It was the way I coped.

But last night, at @kbaumler’s invitation, I spoke to a room of 100 Relay for Life runners, team captains, activists, survivors (a few), and caregivers (many, oh, so many) about my story.  About what it was like to have cancer.  About what it was like to survive cancer, to help kick off their Relay for Life 2009 season.

I didn’t know what to talk about.  Kristina said, “tell your story.”  So I did.  The first draft came out kinda dark.  I think I brightened it up some with a subsequent draft but it was still not a happy story.  But how could cancer be a happy story?  Yes, yes, I’m thrilled to be alive again, but the end result of a year of struggle and pain and work is … that I’m at the starting line again.  I’m alive. … but so are all of you, y’know?  It’s hard to be grateful for — or happy about — cancer.

But today I am grateful, for I was able to help three people yesterday.

1. @alexcaseybaby, whose twitters about a friend having a preventative double mastectomy came just as I was doubting my words.

2. A woman who came up after my talk last night and told me that she was grateful that I spoke the forbidden words — acknowledging that the fight against cancer does not end with the good news that the tumor is gone.

3. Another mom, who happened to be sitting at my table last night with her two kids, as I sat there with my two kids, all of them eating fruit and snacks together, who left as I began my talk.  I worried then that I had offended — but as it turns out there was more to the story.  You see, she has cancer too.  She’s having surgery on Monday and has to tell her kids … today.  She needed to hear me talk, to see me standing there, to see that there is life beyond cancer.

And talking to her afterwards, as I told @mommy4cocktails, who so graciously came out just to hear me and sit by my side (and for which I’m forever grateful!), was the reason that I’d been brought there.

That made it all worthwhile.

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2 Responses to A Survivor’s Story, at Relay for Life

  1. imstell says:

    I’ve shared before that I steered clear of online research while I was undergoing treatment… and that after my mastectomy (when I got the news of my 90% recurrence risk) I finally turned to Dr. Google out of desperation. While I was glad to find sites like IBC Foundation with boards for survivor stories, I was horrified at how old the posts were. I immediately wondered if these brave women were STILL alive.

    I really feel strongly that it’s our responsibility to talk openly and yes, painfully about our journey. To maintain visibility. To encourage the frightened newbies and the nervous freshly out of treatment that life does continue. There is life after cancer. There is life with cancer. That within us all is the strength to go on.

  2. Laurie says:

    Susan – you are wonderful. xoxox

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