The first slap

The first slap
This photo was taken the day after I was diagnosed, and it is my first bitch slap at cancer. I'm the one with the icepack symbolically placed on my boob. My teammates changed our team's uniform to pink at the last minute, and I came off the soccer field that night with one goal and a whole lot of love. Several of these women are my close friends, but they are all warriors, and they all helped me set the tone for this fight.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

On "Strength" and "Grace"

Those of you on Facebook may likely have already seen this, as it's making the rounds through the social networking world, but I find that so much of it rings true for me right now, and how I'm trying to go about this: 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do. But I have some other thoughts on this...

On "Strength." It is a no-brainer that no one is mentally strong all the time, and if anyone leads you to believe otherwise, they are lying. 'Nuff said about that. But I do have a few concerns about what appears to be a standard of strength that people might strive to live up to (lots of people, not just cancer patients). When Skyping with Craig in between my mammogram and the biopsy, I told him, "I don't know how to do this. I want to do this with strength and grace." His simple and amazing response was, "Why? Why do you think you need to do that?" Indeed, why? Why did I want to do that? Why did I (correction, do I) feel the need, even the expectation to do that?

I have nothing against strength, mental or otherwise. In fact, I do aspire to it. However, I'm quickly learning that it is a standard that is simply unfair to impose on people in unchecked ways. While I find friends' comments about my supposed strength helpful (e.g., "You are strong and you will get through this"), "strength" in its soundbite form, as a cliche, is in itself weak.  Strength takes so many more forms than the link above would suggest: Everyday forms, teary forms, micro-forms, forms that sometimes don't appear fully controlled. Curling up in a ball and crying before getting out of bed in the morning: one last bout of sobs to send the remaining night demons packing. Taking a sleeping pill at 5:00 am to get just a couple more hours of sleep. Slapping an extra helping of whipped cream on a latte.... Close your eyes and visualize these events. They may not match the standard of "strength," but how are these not strong?

On "Grace." I have this image in my mind of Craig's mother, Jan, with cancer, near the end of her life. Her words to her friend, "Don't cry for me, Lois, I've had a good life," ring in my ear. Her perpetual lack of complaint, and her willingness to still do things for others before herself. Even when she was in pain. Smooth lines through life. Giving. Laughter. Softly putting others first, and smiling all the while. Jan really was amazing, and I continue to admire her grace. But let's be clear: That was Jan being Jan. She was always like that. It was not a false grace that she took on because she had cancer. 

My high school friend Kathleen, a military woman, recently offered to put on her fatigues and cammo paint and "open up a can of whoop ass" on my cancer. Close your eyes and imagine it: It's rough, it's abrupt, it's fierce, it's hard. It's a loud and welcome complaint and threat against my cancer. No smooth lines there. But how is that not also grace?


  1. I am laughing at your comments while tears roll down my checks. I love your strength and grace. I used to joke last year that I loved having a student named "Grace" since it meant that I was finally doing so many things with "Grace" for the first time in my life. Maybe we need to get you a special stuffed animal named Grace who tucks in your pocket. You will then be doing everything with "Grace" just like I did for a year!

    I will never forget our buddy Elizabeth getting frustrated at me for getting mad at the slow moving nurse. She was in pain and needed help and I was so angry that help was so slow moving. It was the middle of the night so there was only one nurse. Her angelic and graceful response: "Zanne, maybe she had a bad day. It's late. She is tired and will come soon. Just give her more time." This would not be yours or my response in this situation. We are all just who we are. I am with you in cursing and bitchslapping this aggravation we are calling CANCER.

  2. "Strength" and "Grace" are subsets of "having your shit together." You bring some of that to the table with you, a big part of it comes from having a supportive family, and more from having supportive friends. You are rich in the "having your shit together" realm.

    Also, what Zanne said above. Everyone needs an advocate when they are dealing with the system; some hospitals have advocates as part of the staff for patients, but I can't imagine it's as good as having a family member or friend to get the staff's attention, or to "turn the picture toward the wall" when you're too busy or tired.

    You know that you have lots of love and support out here on the left coast.


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