“You are so brave,” the Mom of my daughter’s friend compliments me as she places a casserole on my kitchen table. “I mean really, you are amazing.” I smile and thank her. When she leaves I collapse on my sofa, sob like a baby and swallow my antidepressant. How am I possibly amazing or brave? I didn’t choose to have cancer, that would have made me brave. If I voluntarily stood up and said “Yes, I accept the challenge! Give me cancer.”
I know she means well but I feel obliged to tell her I am not brave just unlucky. I feel like a phony when friends praise me for my strength. I don’t want their admiration because I happened to get cancer. And I don’t believe I got cancer because God thought I was strong enough to handle it. God would have known better. He would have realized I was a hot mess before cancer and this diagnosis might just throw me over the edge.
I want to tell her I am scared. Scared that I won’t be there for my daughter’s high school graduation or wedding day. Afraid to leave my husband with three daughters who really need a Mom. Scared of dying. But such honesty would make us both uncomfortable. So instead, I smile and say, “I am feeling better every day.” And eventually, I do start to feel better. My scans come back clear, my bloodwork is normal, and my fearful thoughts are just a whisper I can hardly hear.
I look back at these people who helped me, my friends, and see them from a different viewpoint. Maybe they were the brave ones after all. The ones who showed up and encouraged me to be strong. The ones who stayed positive when I was at my weakest. The ones who drove my kids to their practices, covered their school books and came over to do my laundry while I slept. Maybe I was too self-absorbed to realize it. Thinking I was the only person whose life had thrown them a curveball. If I had opened my eyes I would have seen that many of my friends have also experienced loss, heartbreak, and death.
So, now I have decided it’s my turn to be brave. To show up and be strong for a friend. To listen when they cry, encourage them and let them know they are not alone. So many of us are struggling. Struggling from depression, marriage problems and addiction and hiding it from the rest of the world. Just because someone looks put together on the outside doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering on the inside. Getting cancer didn’t make me brave, but maybe what I do next will make me brave.