So, more than a year later...what is my most important lesson?

I receive a lot of email about breast cancer. Back in the "early days" I signed up for just about every newsletter and blog that I could find about the subject. I needed information and I needed a lot of it. I needed to feel like I was making the right decisions and doing the right things. In all honestly, I don't read most of it anymore. Unless something is pressing on my mind, I try my best not to overload myself on all things breast cancer. But every now and then a subject heading grabs my attention before I delete the message. 

One of the newsletters I received about a month ago was an announcement about a writing contest for a story about the most important breast cancer lesson I've learned. Initially, I thought it was a grand idea and planned to submit a brief response. As time went on, I actually forgot about the contest and by the time I remembered, the deadline was just about here. Well, the deadline has come and gone and an extention has come out...but until this morning, I just wasn't sure that I really had anything to say.

There is so much that I've learned and I'm not actually sure that all the things I've taken away from this journey so far have been good lessons. Like...I really am working on believing that a relationship can be sustained throughout this sort of stress. It didn't happen for me. And I know a lot of other people whose relationships did not make it through breast cancer treatments. But then, I think about husbands like JG who are doing all that they can to support their wives through this process and I try to un-learn my belief that its not possible. And Fran's husband, who was by her side every step of the way. I know that there are guys who can deal, relationships that will survive this sort of pressure and that makes it easier for me to believe that I still may find someone to love after all.

I've learned good things... that my family really loves me, that my mother is spectacular (even when she's cranky or I'm cranky), that I don't have to try to be superwoman all the time. I've learned a lot about myself, about family and friends, about expectations, disappointments and the medical system. I've learned a lot about health insurance and about my own resilience. But this morning, I read a painful email from a sister I have yet to meet who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She is related to a friend and former colleague of mine. And she's absolutely terrified. Briefly chatting with her this morning by email reminded me that I have truly come a long way. Much farther than I ever would have imagined possible 15 months ago.

I learned this morning that even after all that I've been through, all the ways that I feel that cancer has robbed me of so has not succeeded in taking everything from me. I am resilient enough to still be standing a year later. I am resilient enough to take from my own experience and share it with others. I am resilient enough to accept that I still have a few more chemotherapy treatments of my own, and more surgeries in my future...and know that maybe the best gift I can give another woman in my situation is my ear to listen and a hug (real or virtual) if she needs it.

Although there are many days when I feel like a shell of myself, there is still enough left over after breast cancer, for me to give to someone else.

I'm not entering the contest. Primarily because I don't feel like it really. (laughs) But it was a good thought to consider deeply as we move into breast cancer awareness month.

I have learned that I am strong...even when I'm weak.

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