On Being a Survivor

Imagine, if you can, being handed a gift. It's not your birthday, nor is it any other special occasion. You're a bit stumped. Why am I getting this, you think? Where did it come from?

And once you take hold of the package -- it's thrust upon you, and you simply have no choice -- you notice its hef; its bulky form defies definition. It's confusing, unexpected and quite ugly. It weighs heavily on you; alters your breathing and makes you quite sad, really. You yearn to give it back, or even -- heaven forbid -- re-gift it (but you don't have the heart to do that.)

What is this? I don't want it. I don't know what to do with it.

Take it back!

Why me?

But as soon as the gift is given, the giver disappears, leaving you on your own to figure it all out.

You've heard rumors that it is indeed a gift that you will be grateful for one day. You've heard people say it was the greatest gift they've never wanted.

At first, you resent it, curse at it and throw objects, like sneakers, at it. It makes you bellow with rage. Hole up under the covers. How dare life go on normally around you; people smiling and laughing and having fun when something like this is in your life? You place it out of the way, on a high shelf.

It brings out an ugly side of you that you barely recognize and are surprised to discover: An anxious, bitter, angry and cynical person. Your former self -- the one who couldn't wait to get up in the morning and embrace the day; the one who made people laugh; the one who loved her children so deeply she was afraid they'd crack under the weight of her hugs -- has gone missing.

Time passes. And with each day, you begin to figure it all out. It's hard work, making sense of this gift. Every once in awhile, you glimpse at it sitting up on a high shelf and its amoeba-like form begins to take on a more distinctive shape. The edges are not as blurry; the surface not as rough.

You eventually dare to take it off the shelf and hold it. And when you do, you're surprised: It's not as heavy as I thought, you say to no one. It feels quite nice, you think; almost comforting in a way. You stroke its strong, smooth shell, wondering what happened to the bumps that you swore once poked of its surface.

And just as unexpectedly as the gift's shape has changed, you are hugging it tightly to your chest. As you squeeze it, you know that it won't crack -- by then you have realized your children haven't cracked either -- and you will be okay.

Breast cancer. It challenged you, humbled you, and frightened you beyond measure. It was bumpy, heavy, cumbersome and ugly. You wanted to give it back.

But then... That gift which has metamorphosed into survivorship, sparkles and glows with such startling brilliance and you find that you need just as much as the air you breathe. All things suddenly seem brighter; more luminous. Was the color red ever so brilliant and complex at the same time? Why didn't you ever before notice that traffic doesn't matter and a bad mood will pass? Why did you ever think that a new day was a given and not to be celebrated?

That gift, the one once thrust upon you unwanted and unwelcome... has morphed into a beautiful swan.

It's brought new meaning to your life. Along with its challenges, it's granted you peace, health, serenity and a brute strength that you never imagined could -- or would -- ever belong to you again.