This is an excerpt from a speech I gave recently to Relay for Life volunteers. It was such an interesting excercise in organizing my thoughts, I thought I'd share it.
When I was 8, my parents put my kittens to sleep. At the time, it was the worst thing I could imagine would ever happen. 20 years ago, when I got divorced, I thought that was the worst thing that would ever happen to me. Six years ago, when my house burned down, I thought that was definitely the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Two years ago, when they found a suspicious spot on my mammogram, I thought, oh god, if I have cancer that would be the worst thing that I could imagine happening to me. Once again, I can look back say, what was I thinking? It wasn’t the end, it was a series of gifts.
The first gift was the bond I now share with so many other cancer survivors. After trying to hide my baldness and fatigue from my largest client for months, I finally had to confess that I couldn’t meet her because I was doing radiation. Her response was “I’ve been thru it myself. Did you lose your hair too? She’s no longer a client, she’s a fellow survivor and a friend.
The second gift was my support group of “breast friends.” The gift isn’t just that they’re there for you when you’re bald and trying to figure out how to be feminine again, its that YOU’re there for the next person who’s bald, and sick, and you can tell them how to feel feminine again.
The biggest gift is a new set of priorities. We go thru life thinking that the most important thing in life is to get that raise, make that sale, or win that account. You get cancer, and you realize that the most important thing in life is getting your health back, then it’s your friends and family that keep you healthy and strong. And somewhere down the list is work. And somewhere above that is the importance of giving back.
That’s another gift – the drive to give back to the friends, family and community that treated me and got me thru it. I HATE asking people for money, but last year, I thought – what the heck, let’s at least ask. I signed up to do the Portsmouth, NH Relay for Life. Imagine my surprise when I became the top money raiser and my biggest supporter was that ex-husband I mentioned earlier. The lesson there, another gift, is that people really do want to help, you just have to ask.
Another gift is realizing that cancer is not a death sentence. When I was done with my treatment, my oncologist Dana Farber’s Eric Winer told me, don’t worry, if it comes back in five years we will have found the cure.” He’s right. As long as we keep giving back and raising money, there will be new cures and new hope. And hope is the biggest gift of all.