Recently I attended my first American Cancer Society fundraiser for Breast Cancer. A group of approximately 100 people were gathered at a delightful restaurant at a local mall on a chilly Spring night. There were scavenger hunts at various shops with local merchants giving discounts to the gathered shoppers. It was lighthearted and fun. About 25% of those in attendance were Breast Cancer survivors. At the end of the evening we all gathered back at the restaurant for a final closing. It then turned serious. The emcee had the women who were survivors more than 20 years stand up and 2 women stood, then incrementally down through 15 years, 10 years, and 5 years and many more women were standing. She then asked the women who had been survivors for less than 1 year to stand. Myself and one other woman stood up. As I got up to stand, the tears started to flow down my cheeks. It was my first experience to publicly say I was a Breast Cancer Survivor. And as I stood there, all of the pain and hardship of the last 6 months started flowing out of me. Whether I wanted to be a part of this group or not, I had been voted in. My dear friends who I had known since grade school and high school had attended this event with me and didn’t miss my tears. They embraced me and all the love they had shown me through the past 6 months I felt. It took everything in me not to sob uncontrollably.
Looking at the two women who had now survived more than 20 years, I pondered what would be necessary for me to be standing there 20 years from now. Instinctively I knew some things would have to do with medicines and medical healing, but the majority of what I needed to be a 20 year survivor would be from the emotional and spiritual realm. Since Breast Cancer is so tied to a woman’s emotions, at that moment I knew that I would have to continue making changes in my emotional world.
This has always been difficult for me, and I knew I needed God’s guidance and help in the emotional arena. Be careful what you wish for because help and knowledge came quickly. While I had been gone, an old friend had called me. So upon returning home, I called him back. The minute he started to talk, he asked me how I was feeling. I started to tell him, but he cut me off and said, “Oh good, I am glad you are feeling better” and went on to the next subject. Anger welled up within me like the tears had welled up just an hour before at the fundraiser. I said, “You just dismissed me and my feelings. All you wanted to hear is that I was better so you didn’t have to really listen to what I have been going through. That makes me angry. I need you to listen to me.” He got quiet and said, “You are right.” For the first time in 6 months, he really listened to what I had to say.
When I got off the telephone, I knew that this was part of my 20 year survivor lesson. I need to learn to communicate better and no longer stuff my emotions. There is freedom in that revelation. Immediately I felt a new emotional river open up within me. This river has currents, and whitewater, but also has gentle flowing streams all contained within it. And in order to navigate this river, I will have to continue to hone my emotional skills so I can be that 20 year survivor. I am up to the challenge.