These two words have become common words said to me, almost a staple to being a cancer survivor. In the nearly 7.5 years of my survivorship, I have heard and been told these words on several occasions. My response?
Well, quite frankly, in the very beginning, I had no words, just a smug of a smile, if you will, or a blank response face within the newly fallen tears. What is one to say in response? "Thank you,"? How do you thank someone under those circumstantial facts? Happy, sad, dreadful, or denial with shock? Am I even due to owe them a thank you, to be politically correct? Let me not even mention the fact of dealing with survivor's guilt.
After a few cycles of this conversation with varied people, I found myself responding like this:
I had no other option than to be strong, to be strong for my kids. I have four; the youngest was only four months old at that time! My second youngest child was still a tender age of 5 years!
Honestly, what else was I supposed to do?! Is there anything else to do?
Entering past the half-way point in my chemo treatments (a 5 chemo cocktail that entailed two weeks' worth of chemo-three separate chemos at every inpatient-followed by outpatient which included the last two chemos. These two visits flip-flopped every other week, thus leaving me with weekly chemo), I actually could not continue on. I wanted to give up, quit. I actually wanted to quit. The regimen was too much for my body, both physically and mentally. I have to say it was also too much emotionally...a young mom with young kids.....I spent most of my time in bed, in bed sleeping, sleeping away the pain, the nausea, the meds, the everything. Being in bed was also less of a chance of me falling. When I was not in bed, I would slowly and ever so carefully walk down the halls into the family room where I would rest in my brown recliner, watching life continue on with my family as mine stopped.
Upon my concern to not be able to continue on, my NP Oncologist said that I could do this and to remember that we had to hit this hard since it was a hard and quick cancer. A hit with a stronger hit as he used his fists to describe the force of action we had to continue on with since we were closer to the light, where the light will be the end. It didn't take much to persuade me but having his encouragement and medical support meant everything to me. This man truly cared. He wanted to see me succeed this battle.
I am beyond grateful that I did continue on. When someone tells me how strong I am-I still tend to get a bit speechless and don't know what to say, BUT now being this far out and deep into the cancer world, I've known and seen two things:
1. God knows each of our time, and no matter how strong someone is/was, when God calls them; there is no strength that can overcome that. (Job 14:5) Our God is always in control.
2. I have seen inner strength at different levels; those that simply could not fight on, even for their kids, family, etc, which likely goes back to #1.
So....I am thankful that I was and am 'strong' BUT only with our God's strength and glory to Him. Those other 'strong' survivors and warriors, I honor and admire. Going through cancer is NOT EASY in any way, so in my opinion, they-YOU-are all superheroes. My dear oncologist nurse always said we were her 'rockstars'. Indeed you are, they are, whether still here with us or not.
Based on this, what do I say now when I hear, "You're strong,"? Simple. It was God's strength given to me (for His plan and purpose). By no means could I have made that entire journey without His strength, not even a sliver fraction of it. (Isaiah 40:29; John 15:5) It took me some time to get this right after the long whirlwind, and longer to express this to others. When I did, it was then that I realized this was the way in which it was giving Him glory, which led me to understand it's encouragement to others. A ministry in itself, as my late husband used to tell me. I completely understand now.
As each of us cancer survivors are forever grateful to have another day alive, we continue honor those that have been lost to cancer. We continue to support those still fighting, those newly diagnosed, and those that fall into a relapse. Know that you are never alone, not even for a fraction of a second. We are all here and most importantly, our Father is here and there. (Joshua 1:9) Be strong and be brave. You are a warrior. Love to you all.