Celebrate (v.) from Latin celebrates: "much-frequented; kept solemn”
I recently had the privilege of speaking to 300 survivors, family members and professional care givers at the Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s, Survivors Day Celebration.
The event was inspiring, moving and heart-wrenching. The festive atmosphere was rich with flower arrangements, balloons, prizes and t-shirts. Poignantly, attendees were given buttons to wear where they could write in the number of years they have logged in as a survivor. Seeing numbers like, five,seven, 17 and 30 gave instant weight to the theme of the event which was, Hope Blooms.
As any cancer survivor is aware, the blossom of hope can be a fragile flower. This was best pointed out to me when a woman in her 70s came to the table that my wife and I were sitting at to tell us that she was a survivor of breast cancer. Mid-way through my heart-felt congratulations, she stopped me with, “But wait.” I knew whatever was coming next was going to hit right at core of what being a cancer survivor really means. In a worried tone, the woman went on to say that she had recently been diagnosed with a form of liver cancer and that her treatment options were limited and one was “a clinical trial.” She was clearly shaken up by the return of cancer and anxious about what course of treatment to take, if any.
What I was not prepared for was her direct question, “What should I do?” My mind reeled between the therapist in my head, which knows never to give direct advice, and the emotional need to carry the hope banner. Struggling to contain the anger I feel anytime I hear that someone who has already been through the treatment ringer has to face it again, I went with an empathic response, while trying hard to not give away the fact the not knowing what I will do should my cancer resurface keeps me up at nights. My response was, “I can’t tell you what you should do, because I don’t have the answer. I do know that if it was me, I would do what I did when I was diagnosed which was seek out the best medical opinions I could find, get a second and third opinion, and involve everyone whom I love in the decision.”
I would be lying if I said the woman left relieved to hear such “wisdom.” What’s truer is that the fear was still on her face and she politely thanked me for my time. Not knowing if that woman will have the opportunity to attend next year’s celebration, and add one more year to her survivor button, could haunt a person for a long time. In my case, the festive air of the event, the smiles of survivors and their family members, even as they told stories of profound challenges, kept hope blooming. I kept reminding myself of the message that I ended with during my keynote moment. “Despite cancer’s attempts to convince us otherwise, we are each, in our true essence, perennial—meaning enduring and everlasting.”
I’m determined that my own wildflower of hope will ultimately be measured not by its roots, stem or pedals, but its fragrance—the soul and spirit that outlives all illness. I hold firmly to the belief that one survivor implies all survivors, and our time is not measured by years, but the natural rhythm of the unending cycle of life. That is something to truly celebrate.