I sometimes wonder if I’m being foolishly strong or strongly foolish.
My physical trainer, Laury, will tell you that I wrestle with both limitations and risk-taking. I’m not afraid of doing 10 more reps on a bicep machine, but I’m terrified of doing a push up. Even six months later, I still fear my chest muscles ripping apart, my faded pink scars bursting open at the seams, and my arms giving out on me. I fear falling. I fear pulling.
I fear that I’ll be faced with my own weakness.
But, this year has taught me a lot. Beginning with Marathon b4 Mastectomy – the actual training and then running the of the (2) half marathon(s) — and ending, today, with the most difficult physical task I have had to do since post-surgery, I am beginning to find the balance between accepting my body for both its strength and weakness.
This past week, my family went to Camp Sunshine for the first time without me. My dear husband and friends have been sending me text messages and photos to help ease the pain, “we wish you were here” and “we miss you!” have flooded my inbox.
But one text came through that brought me to tears.
This time last year, Joli nervously removed her eye in front of her friends. For the first time in this session, Joli put it back in all by herself.
Early in the Camp Sunshine sessions, the children who have prosthetic eyes are gathered together to talk about their cancer and their “fake eyes.” They have discussions about feeling normal, feeling different and what they understand about cancer. But, really, the kids want to get to the good stuff — the cool, gross, and wacky stuff. They want to take out their eyes.
Though she lives her life with a great sense of normalcy, her eye and her cancer journey have set her apart. This act of taking her eye in and out was a statement of empowerment and of control.
She is Brave.
As I approached the 35 foot tall rope ladder, I knew this would be difficult. I was looking forward to the height of it, knowing full well that I was safe and secure connected to my harness and rope. But, it was the actual act of climbing, of relying solely on my upper body strength, that terrified me. After climbing just one rung on the rope ladder, I fell off balance and swung nearly on the underside of the apparatus. My arms tensed up, my abdominal muscles contracted, and my back was on fire. It felt as if a whip struck me in my recovering severed chest. Was I being stubborn and foolish, or was I finally overcoming my fear of failure?
It nearly took my breath away.
As I clung onto a knot in the rope, my eye caught the inside of my left wrist.
I can be this.
I composed myself, drew in my breath, reached above my head, stretching further than I have done since November 16 (the evening before my surgery) and pulled my body up the rope ladder. Grunting. Wanting to scream. Wanting to cry. Wanting to quit.
I can be this.
Having only climbed two rungs from the bottom of the ladder — fully exhausted and mentally afraid — I leaned my forehead into the top rung, my implants and chest falling through the holes in the rope, and bit my bottom lip.
I can be this.
Pulling, stretching, ripping, shaking. Twisting, gripping, grasping, climbing. I muscled my way up each rung, slowly, carefully, cautiously, reluctantly.
What seemed like hours, but surely was just minutes, I found myself just four rungs from the top, but I was ready to quit. I had come this far, further than I had ever imagined. I closed my eyes. If I wanted to, I could just step off the rope ladder, 30 feet from the ground, lean back, and feel the security of my partner gently lowering my exhausted and fatigued body to the safe, blue, faded gym mat below. Applause, cheers, and “You go, girl” would rise up from my friends in the room. I would feel proud.
But, proud is not brave.
Proud is what we are when we reach or exceed our expectations. Brave is who we are when we feared each step of the way.
I opened my eyes.
That is who you are.
At the top of the rope ladder sat all the fears of my seven year old cancer survivor.
At the top of the rope ladder hung the days she came home crying that other children had made fun of her.
At the top of that ladder was the 3-D movie she couldn’t see at her school field trip to the science museum.
At the top of that ladder was the image of her connected to the poison that would heal her.
At the top of that ladder was the day she cried at school because her Mommy was having her breasts removed.
At the top of that ladder was her Bravery. Her Brave.
And, I wanted to be in the moment with her.
Peace, love, and climbing new heights.