Monday, October 25, 2010

The Spirit of a Survivor

One of the biggest blessings of my job is the interaction I get with cancer survivors.  Each one of them has an amazing story of hope and inspiration to share.  Some of them stand out because of their strength, attitude and faith.  Over the past two days I've had the opportunity to meet a few standout survivors.

Sunday, Noah & I spent the afternoon at the first ever Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in Western Kentucky.  You never know what to expect with a first year event, especially when the weather held an iffy forecast.  We left for Owensboro right after church and arrived fairly early but were shocked to see the already growing crowd.  As the hour drew nearer to the start of the event, a sea of supporters and survivors covered the front lawn of the campus of Kentucky Wesleyan.  It was an amazing sight!

I staffed the "information table" with the plan of providing program and service information for survivors.  For the most part, the afternoon was spent being a logistical information giver..."restrooms there, registration here" but for the few women who paused long enough to talk, I was honored to share with them. 

This day, their survivorship was obvious, as each were draped with a white sash with the word SURVIVOR running across their chest.  I was thankful for the chance to provide them hope and encouragement and a list of services ACS could support them with.  What I enjoyed most, was hearing their stories and seeing the bravery on their faces.  Even for those I didn't speak with, their smiles and spirits were obvious...whether they were surrounded by loved ones or head to toe in pink boas and poms poms.

Some women stopped at the table to fill out a memory sticker too.  As their tears fell on the table and they wrote the names of someone they loved and lost, I said a silent prayer for them.  They were survivors of another form...a survivor of loss, and I know too well the painful journey that can be.

Today, I traveled to Henderson to help with one of my favorite ACS programs, Look Good...Feel Better.  It is a program for women in treatment and helps them cope with the physical side effects of cancer.  A licensed cosmetologist leads the class and teaches women tips and tricks to help them look good, and thus feel better while fighting cancer.  While four women had pre-registered, only one showed up and I have to admit, I was a little disappointed at first. 

We don't have LGFB regularly in Henderson so this was the last chance for 2010 for the local residents to take part.  I understand why it happens though - we're targeting women in treatment and so every day is undecided.  They may pre-register but then end up in the hospital or wake up feeling very ill and just cannot attend.  One patient was better than no patients though and I was grateful to be able to provide help and support for her today. 

As the program involves make-up, you never know how women will react.  Some of them are excited, opening their kits like it Christmas morning and others standoffish, not knowing if this is really for them.  What I love about LGFB is that by the end, there is transformation, as each woman is renewed, happier, and ready to face whatever the day brings.  It's amazing what a tube of lipstick can do!

Today's lady was something special.  She was in her 60s and had a no-nonsense attitude.  While she admitted she hadn't thought of putting on make-up since her diagnosis, I became tickled at her reactions to each new product.  She was eager to try the mascara, surprised at the difference the blush made in her complexion and went on and on about the lotion.  What touched me most though was her positive attitude, strength and willpower to beat this disease.  Through the course of the program, we learned she was undergoing both chemo and radiation, and had in fact, just finished a treatment before coming to the class.  Her hair was thinning and you could tell from the darkness in her eyes that she was tired but she was not stopping.  She drives herself to treatment and believes that being active is what is keeping her going.

Towards the end, she said, "You just gotta shake it off.  It is what I was dealt and if at 63 I can beat this, I have nothing to complain about."  As I smiled back at her, nodding, I said, "It's just a season in your life."  Her spirit and outlook carried me through the rest of the afternoon and had me smiling at each leaf that floated by and added a bounce to my step.  It's always amazing to me how in seeing someone's reaction to how they're dealing with a difficult moment can inspire and lift others.  It is why survivors are applauded and recognized at so many events and programs throughout the world.

The important thing to remember though is that we are all survivors, in some form or another.  Maybe you are a survivor of addiction and you've overcome the odds.  ...a survivor from abuse and you've realized you are stronger and deserve more... a survivor from loss and you are facing each day, while reminded of the void, with a sense of hope and strength.  Everyone is facing some kind of battle.  And that is why we should all strive to treat each other with love and kindness.  You never know what your story - or your smile - can do for someone else in need.


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