Sometimes breast cancer warriors need subtle reminders of their courageous fight. One survivor received that message from a coffee mug.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
The pink coffee mug sat on my kitchen counter, a gift from an old friend I hadn't seen or heard from in more than 40 years. She'd heard about my breast cancer diagnosis and wanted to show her love and support. She thought this gift would do just that, and she was right. That was more than three years ago.
I remember holding the mug in my hands and as I turned it, read the words written across its face, "You are a courageous woman." I'd never considered myself courageous – quite the contrary, really.
Among the many attributes I possessed, I'd never counted courage as one of them. When I think about courageous people, various celebrities come to mind, people like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr.. Now those were people of great courage! I don't think I rank up there with them. Those brave souls had given their lives for the benefit of others. They'd made huge sacrifices and had paid the ultimate price. What had I done? Nothing other than fight to survive.
I couldn't help but wonder what prompted my friend to choose that specific mug with the sentiment on courage emblazoned across the front. Surely, she hadn't been following my blog … or had she? If she had, she knew most of my breast cancer story, which included the raw reality of my struggles. If she hadn't, perhaps she'd heard through the grapevine how hard I'd fought in the beginning and how I'd worked to meet each challenge as it'd come, after all, we did have some mutual friends and I'm sure my name had entered their conversations at some point.
To be considered courageous was an honor, and one I didn't take lightly. Just knowing this friend had seen or heard about some courageous qualities I possessed made me blush. But what could she have witnessed? Was it my ability to conquer my fears? Perhaps it was my ability to push through difficult situations, or maybe my ability to embrace the cancer hand dealt me? For the life of me, I just didn't know.
If she had seen the number of tears I'd cried over the last few years, my courage card would have been stripped away. If she'd known how many times I wanted to just give in and give up, she'd have never chosen that mug. I didn't have one courageous bone in my body…or did I?
Thinking back over my initial days of surgery and treatment, I had to admit I'd been forced to be courageous. During those difficult days, I had no other choice than to pull up my big girl panties, throw out a stiff upper lip and make the choice to just get through it, and I did. I got through it. It was the most difficult thing I'd ever done, but I did it.
That mug said, "You are a courageous woman." I read it over and over again before finally accepting the fact that it was true. My sweet friend had seen it even when I hadn't.
Today, I'm packaging the mug up and getting it ready to mail out. The same sweet friend who sent me that mug several years ago has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. My heart broke when I learned of her diagnosis. I hope, when she opens the box and takes out the mug, she'll realize, as she reads the words, "You are a courageous woman," that she is. Even though her battle is just beginning, she is brave. Because that's what women learn when faced with breast cancer: we learn to be courageous even when we don't particularly want to be. And we all need to be reminded at times during our fight, that we are courageous women and we should own it.
Mother Theresa said it well when she said, "I know God won't give me anything I can't handle, I just wish He didn't trust me so much." I thought the same thing once or twice during my breast cancer journey, how about you?