How Life Lessons from My Parents, a Former Employer and a Holocaust Survivor Have Helped Me During My Cancer Journey

February 27, 2021
Marissa Holzer
Marissa Holzer

Marissa is a forty-something Flattie in sunny SoCal living with metastatic breast cancer, her boyfriend (and high school sweetheart) and her not so mini schnauzer, Heidi. She enjoys reading, stress baking and roller skating. She hopes to inspire others with her dry humor and zest for life.

A patient with metastatic breast cancer recalls how she’s been told countless times that she’s so brave, so strong and so resilient. Here, she thanks those who have influenced her and helped her be so courageous.

You are so brave. You are so strong. You are resilient. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve heard those words over the past seven years while living with metastatic breast cancer. In a way, when we are born, we start surviving.

We were made to thrive. It’s instinctive. Sometimes we aren’t given a choice. We start learning at an early age from those around us how to be brave, how to be strong and how to be resilient. For some of us, it’s just in our nature. For others, it’s acquired or sometimes it could be a combination of both.

There are many people who have crossed my path over the years inspiring the strength, bravery and resilience within me. Starting with my parents. There was this pencil with a cow on the top where the eraser should go at my house when I was younger. We’ve probably all heard the term, “milking it.” The idea behind the pencil was that if you were sick or injured and taking too long to get over it, you would be awarded the cow pencil along with a lot of mooing sounds.

Not wanting to be subjected to the cow pencil, my sister and I learned to get over whatever it was pretty quickly. This may not sound like the nurturing parents of today’s world. And, you may even think it sounds cruel. Nevertheless, I survived childhood just fine and am stronger, braver and more resilient for it. If I catch myself having a pity party, all I have to do is “moo.”

During my working years, my employer had a blue ribbon displayed on her desk imprinted with the words, “I survived damn near everything.” She also had a sign posted in the back that said, “Would you mind taking your silly ass problem down the street.” These two quotes made quite an impression on me during my teen and early adult years. My employer was a small, yet strong woman who stood up for what she believed in. I learned so much from her over the years about standing up for myself, never giving up, and never giving in. When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy infusions, I had the pleasure of meeting a volunteer who played the harp in the infusion center for the patients.

I was there regularly, and he would often come over to my recliner and chat with me while I was having my infusions. He was in his 90s and had thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours with the hospital. His wife had been an oncology patient there and he loved to give back to the community in her honor. As I got to know him better, he shared with me a little bit of his own life and his story. He was a Holocaust survivor and survived World War II’s forced labor camps in Austria with the help of the people in the nearby villages, which surrounded his labor camp, sneaking him food. His story is so inspirational.

Considering all he endured, his heart was always kind. Although I am being treated elsewhere now and haven’t had the occasion to run into him lately, his story is forever etched in my mind as one of strength, bravery, and resilience. When facing a cancer diagnosis, there aren’t many choices. Yet I choose to be strong and brave and resilient. I am grateful to be able to pull from my life experiences and from those who cross my path. I choose to use life’s inspirations to keep pressing on. I realize attitude can’t change my diagnosis; however, attitude and my will to survive can make me stronger, braver and more resilient than I ever thought possible.

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