(Credit: Center for American Progress)
Elizabeth Edwards died this week and my heart goes out to her and her family. Watching someone you love fight and continue to fight, while losing a battle they can’t win, is both awe-inspiring and awful. She was a mighty force, but she also carried herself with so much grace that it was impossible not to feel inspired by her.
She’d lost her son and that alone was enough to knock most of us to our knees. Now maybe it did knock her to her knees for a time, however, she got up and spoke about her experiences and how much she loved her son. Not only did she stand, but she walked on while carrying the memories of him and her love of him with her for the rest of her life. When she received her cancer diagnosis she continued to do the same, even after she learned that she was terminal, she continued tirelessly to support her husband while caring for her children.
The easiest thing to do is remain down or retreat when life becomes difficult. Getting up and facing things head on is tough and doing so with the kind of kind of courage that Elizabeth Edwards displayed is monumental.
I’m learning in my own way how to do that and I’m not sure if it’s something you master or continue to learn as you walk through life. I don’t know or have the answers to that, but one thing that makes my journey easier, is that I’m not making those steps in front of the world. I have no idea how public figures survive having their lives dissected in the media or how they do so with any measure of sanity or strength, but I do know that Elizabeth Edwards always seemed happily above the fray. This does not mean that she was any more heroic than any other cancer patient, but most of us have the luxury of being able to retreat into our private lives without having to fear that someone will try to take an unflattering photo of us or hound us for the latest news. Even when her husband’s cheating scandal drew worldwide attention, she continued to exude the same strength, grace and courage as she had before. She really was an amazing woman.
I’m not going to put her husband down. I don’t know him and I won’t judge him. People make mistakes for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they become scared while watching someone they love suffer and seek comfort elsewhere, sometimes they are repeating past patterns of behavior and sometimes, well there are endless amounts of sometimes, aren’t there? The truth is as simple as this; whatever relationships we have before receiving a cancer diagnosis is what we will bring with us throughout our cancer journeys. It would be great if everyone around us suddenly behaved lovingly and nobly, and we became better versions of ourselves, but that is not the case. We are what we are and our family members and friends are what they are, and cancer is the great leveler of us all.
Cancer patients and their caregivers are no more noble than anyone else and shouldn’t be pressured to fit into someone’s idea of who they should be. We are not the stoic characters portrayed in movies; we are not anything in particular at all. We have no idea what our reactions to any aspect of cancer or cancer treatment will be. There is no way to know any of this until you are there in that moment. We may have the strength to stand strong; we may fall apart or we may do all of the above and then some. There is no right or wrong way to get through any of this.
Your journey is your own and how you make it, is up to you.
Certainly Elizabeth Edwards, like any other cancer patient, wanted to win her battle, but that is not always the outcome we receive. We can only hope that those around us will be there to offer love, understanding and support with all of their faults, failings, weaknesses and strengths, as we battle on with all of our faults, failings, weaknesses and strengths. Hopefully we will be able to give each other the necessary courage to stand up when we fall and to walk on, like the warriors we all must become.
Thank you for the lessons of courage and grace that you left us with Elizabeth Edwards, and thank you to all the nameless warriors who have done and continue to do the same as we battle cancer.