The Amazing Partnership of Limited Options and Strength
Those of you who follow my writing know that I write often about my family and I do that for many reasons. Well, this blog is no different. Although I come from a very large Irish Catholic family, my father was an only child and my mom was the youngest of only two children. Therefore, we did not grow up with a lot of cousins. But what we lacked in numbers, we made up for in closeness. I look back on my life growing up and how rich those special relationships made it and how blessed I am today to still have all those cousins in my life. I am so very grateful able to be able to connect and still spend time with them today.
One of my cousins is a woman just slightly younger than me; however, even today I still see her as my “baby” cousin. I am still protective of her and see her as the young, naive and impetuous cute little girl she was (and at times annoying). However, the reality is that today she is an impressive, accomplished and multi-certified nurse who works with women and their families with late-stage breast cancer(s). As a matter of fact, she sounds so impressive when she speaks, I drop my jaw in awe of her profound intellect, her fierce determination and downright stubbornness to find a cure, while along the way give hope and comfort and strength to those in her care.
You see, my cousin has not had an easy path of her own in life her journey to adulthood. Her early years were riddled with difficult and tragic events. As if that were not enough, as a young woman in her early 30s and 40s, breast cancer made its unwanted call on her, along with a host of other medical challenges pre and post that engulfed her. She fought all of it viciously and ferociously, yet with utter grace and sheer determination. That she did all of this, raised her boys and continued to be an unstoppable force in her career and in her own recovery is still mind-boggling to me.
A few months back a text came across my phone from her. During her last round of checkups, her very smart team of clinicians recommended a test she normally would not do at this stage of recovery, but instinct and experience kicked in. That ounce of precaution found that this cancer, this devil, was looking to go another round with my baby cousin. Naturally, angry and frustrated disbelief sets in and then an incredible sadness for her shakes you to the core and you talk and you listen, and you try to be inspirational. Because ultimately it is her battle and all one can do is be as present, as loving and as there for her as possible.
She is now on round #9 of chemotherapy and, being who she is, she is working. She proactively shaved her head. Her attitude is one of gratitude for the love of others, while at the same time she is ready to fight like hell to get through this once again. So, while we were talking about this latest battle I tried to lighten things up a little, like any big cousin would do, and I said, “Well, enough about you. What about me?!” She laughed and we talked into the night.
I happened to have emergency surgery myself this past week for a very annoying reason (my own ignorance). The surgery landed me in bed for over a week with incredible pain; however, each day I got significantly better. Early in my recuperation week, with very limited movement in my upper torso and feeling extraordinarily stressed out about not being able to work or help with the kids, I had time to text my cousin to see how she was feeling. Well, when I needed a dose of reality and the time came for me to shut down my own pity party, the universe in the form of my baby cousin stepped in to assist.
When I texted her she immediately asked how I was feeling. I felt like a weakling even sharing how I felt when I knew what she was going through. Then she told me that at the very moment we were texting she was getting her 9th chemo treatment. That simple line reached through my mobile device and virtually slapped me across the face. There is not a person who goes through even a basic procedure or a major one who does not fear that before the doctor confirms this is just part of the recovery process, the panic of thinking it could be the fight of your life sets in. In that one moment I realized I was not in the fight of my life. I was just in temporary pain. It was my cousin once again fighting to live in increments, just to get to her next checkpoint and hear the word “clear.” Within milliseconds, the lesson of the moment was just that. Pity party over.
With that realization I texted, “You are strong, and I admire you.” When I wrote it, I felt the overwhelming sense that her journey was so difficult and mine was literally a bump in the road caused by simply for not taking care of myself. With all my might, I wanted to be present for my cousin, the warrior. But my lesson was not over quite yet. With yet another simple but profound line she reset the bar for me again: “It is amazing what you can do when you have no choice”! I paused and just kept staring at those words, and for me everything stopped.
Once again, my baby cousin delivered the resounding truth, taking off all the wrapping so less intelligent folks like me could understand this important, universal message. I had heard or felt those words before in my own life and I realized we were on the same playing field, although we got there differently. Not through cancer but through life. At that moment I felt the kinship of those who overcome when there is no choice. Such a reality that transcends race, religion, region, sexual orientation, socio-economic realities and all other hardships that make us feel our story is just ours and we stand isolated and alone. With those words my cousin took my breath away, and I texted her back, “I will have to think on that.”
Well, I didn’t need to think on that. What I needed was to catch my breath because I think over my lifetime as an entrepreneur, as a mom of six or as an open, proud lesbian woman, people have called me strong. In my mind, I would think to myself: Well, what choice do I have? The answer was not many, or none. I just got back up to every single morning to fight, work, innovate, heal, love, share, be kind, be tough, and be giving one day at a time.
She then sent me an emoji. An uncharacteristic (for me) few minutes went by and I said to her I was going to write a blog on that as my own journey flashed before my eyes.
Because it was a moment of truth. Many days, most of us get up not just out of strength but because we have no freaking choice.
I am not a hero. I am not a survivor. I am simply a person who found myself in different times in my life that just sucked, and I found myself with limited or no options. So, I mustered the strength I had, the willpower I could muster, and I moved forward.
For the first time in my life, I felt like a million people, not a few or alone. I felt like my eyes where wide open and I was one of many. And that felt good. She healed me.
Settling back to our routine as big cousin/little cousin roles, I told her she had made a good point, but I did not unveil that she gave had given me a needed life line. Not because I was on my back for a stupid surgery that if only I had listened to my body would never have happened, but that the months and now years of challenges were just the reality of having limited choices and that I used strength to walk right through them and make things better. But at the end of the day, I was not alone.
There are just varying degrees of “suckiness” out there. I am not sure that is actually a real word, but I am sticking with it. I am not alone when there are few options or none – that is just life, and when all else fails there is always strength. So, stop with the self-inflicted mental torture and go mediate or do what you can with your thoughts and energy instead of wallowing in the stuff that will drag you down further or set you back.
The reality is that in life that there may be a chemo #10 not far away. But maybe, just maybe, there won’t be a #11.
Now that is worth fighting for.
I close by telling you what I said to my cousin, that “I am going to write a blog about her good point,” but I reminded her not to let it go to her head. She responded with “LOL” and a description of herself that was not accurate. She called herself arrogant and she is not. But she is full of sass – and thank God she is. It is that energy and attitude that makes her important to this universe and to those who come across her on their own personal journey. She has enough strength and wisdom to rise beyond her own trauma and tragedy to touch the many women she meets and gives them a reason to believe and to fight another day. Some may only have precious days, but I am sure each of them is touched and, like I am, better for being around her.
At the end of the text I told her I would be kind in discussing her, because that is what loving cousins do. Big cousins also put little cousins in their place. So here I am putting my little cousin, “the superhero,” in her proper place. May we all have the moment where a person, little cousin or not, reaches out us to tell us we that we are not alone, that there are millions upon millions of us with limited or no options but that we need to find our strength, we need to move forward and we need to know we are not alone.
Yes, life gives us moments that are ridiculously hard if not game-changing. But we must find our strength and our grace and walk forward, because there is someone not far up ahead on that path that needs to be reminded that they too are not alone.
Please send my cousin Trish healing thoughts. This world and everyone in it needs that “little cousin” to remind us that we really do have options, even when it seems there are none. We have our strength. We have our will. We have tomorrow.
Monica C. Smith
Chief Executive Officer, Founder