Most of us who are battling and recovering from cancer have never thought of ourselves as being heroes for our friends and family. However, I have often been amazed over the years to realize that my courage has inspired others. Sometimes I have felt so weak, so sick, and so scared that I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, but I kept on going forward. I never realized that others were watching, and how much it meant to them that I refused to give up.
The bottom line is that it does take courage, imagination, and determination to live like a warrior, to find things to feel positive about, no matter what, to realize that your troubles will pass, that your body can and will heal, and that you aren’t going to feel discouraged forever.
The first time someone said to me that I had given them courage, I was stunned. A friend was going through a very hard time with her job, and was afraid she was going to get laid off. She said, “I was on the brink of panic, wondering how I was going to hold on and survive. But then I thought of you and the way you had fought cancer, how brave you were, and how you never gave up, and I realized that my problems were nothing compared to that. I thought, ‘If Joy could get through that, I can get through what I’m going through too.’ It put everything back into perspective.”
Since then others have said similar things, and it has really helped me to feel encouraged that my own suffering had meaning to those who cared about me. Without realizing it, I had given the gift of hope to others.
No One Does It Alone
My second night in the hospital about 14 friends and family marched into my room during visiting hours. No one will ever know how much that meant to me. I still couldn’t speak at that point. But I could see the anguish on their faces, even behind their attempts to love and cheer me. Somehow I found the strength to say (about a dozen times), “Don’t worry. I’m going to be all right.” And it took a lot of concentration to get those two short sentences out, but they were the truth. I wasn’t happy about being told that I had 14 brain tumors, especially after I’d been pronounced “cured” twice, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to die this time either. Five seconds after my doctor told me I had cancer again, my feelings of fear and distress were pushed out of my body by a column of light that started at the bottom of my spine and surged up my backbone to flow out of my head like a flowering tree, and I knew I was going to be all right, that I was going to beat it this time as well. My fear disappeared.
In the weeks that followed, I was astounded to really how much people loved me. I was also amazed to discover how many things of importance I had accomplished and how much my life had touched others and made a difference in the world.
I think we all go through life thinking we haven’t done enough, having quite lived up to what we had hoped to accomplish. But the love of my friends and family helped me to see through that illusion and for the first time in my life I began to see myself clearly. I also realized how foolish it is to doubt ourselves, to be afraid to follow our dreams. For instance, all my life I have had a wonderful writing talent, but not enough confidence to really step out on my own. I felt much more comfortable co-authoring books with well-known people such as Lynda Schele and Elena Avila. But suddenly I understood that this third visitation of cancer had come as my great teacher. I realized that one of my missions in life, why I had been born, was to write, and that my very survival and the survival of my soul depended upon it.
So now I am writing a book on how I beat cancer. My second MRI at the end of May showed that there was no active cancer in my brain, that most of the tumors were either gone or turned to pinpricks, and that the four remaining had shrunk by 50% (radiation therapy doesn’t “vaporize” tumors, it kills them and then the body needs time to absorb and discard the dead tissue). So, as my sister said recently, I am “on the mountaintop.”
We Are All Heroes
One of the most important revelations that came to me shortly after I was diagnosed was how amazing every human being is, how much each of us has been gifted with, and how much we each have to offer. We live in a culture that has taken away our childhood sense of wonder and power and squashed it into a little box labeled “What is culturally acceptable.” We are brainwashed to believe we are small when in reality we are more wonderful than we can ever imagine.
The writing class I teach at UC Irvine carries the theme “The Hero’s Journey” and the last project my classes do at the end of the term is called the Rhetoric in Practice Project. This project gives them an opportunity to choose from a variety of mediums and deliver a message they really care about to their audience. One of my students created a short film entitled, “Heroes Exist in All of Us.” In closing I’d like to share the link to that video with my readers.
Embrace your greatness. The world needs what you have to offer. I believe in you.
Joy Parker, Radiant Warrior