By: Patty Murray, Chairwoman and Co-founder of Hope for Two…The Pregnant with Cancer Network
After 53 years of living, I have come to understand that we all wear badges or tags, with some being more invisible and silent than others. A few years prior to my own cancer diagnosis, I met a neighborhood woman. Almost immediately, she would sprinkle every conversation with words such as “my illness” and “if people only knew what I have had to go through” without giving any particulars. Being polite, I initially restrained from asking her the details that so profoundly changed her life. Yet a year later my curiosity nudged me into asking her if she felt comfortable enough to share her story.
Her face relaxed as if relieved to unload her burden. She explained that she was treated for cancer months after her first child was born. After recurrence and more treatments, it threw her body into chemically induced menopause in her thirties, rendering her unable to bear any more children. She felt robbed. While listening to her, I interpreted her words and emotions to mean that she wished that she could wear a badge. It would serve as a name tag which would read: Cancer Survivor, Early Menopause, Robbed of Having More Children. I believed that she wanted people to know and have compassion for what she has been through and how much she has suffered, despite looking perfectly “normal” on the outside. Even though I was not yet a 30 year old cancer patient, much less going into early menopause as well, I had some compassion for her plight.
Since then I have spent hours thinking about her statements and wishes, especially after my own diagnosis and treatment, founding of this organization, and speaking with countless other people about their trying life experiences. All of us wear badges during our lives, most of them being silent and invisible. Of course, some are visible: the bald cancer patient, the one with the cast on his leg or the elderly woman shuffling along the street. However, most of us are currently undergoing or have just endured an invisible setback, ordeal, or illness. If the tags were visible some might read “Parent with Dementia”, “Health Issue”, “Child with Learning Disabilities, “Child Rearing Issue”, “Mental Health Issue”, “Family Problems” or “Financial Difficulties”. The list goes on. Sometimes, you would need a magnifying lens to read all of what someone is dealing with at one time for it all to fit on one tag. Other times, nothing is on the tag. And, rarely, you have one ordeal after the other to deal with. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I immaturely looked back on my life and remembered all of the trials and tribulations in my life. Then I asked, “Isn’t this enough? Haven’t I met my quota?” But I now know that every single one of us have trials/tags and it doesn’t stop. It is part of our human condition.
As soon as I came to the full realization of this life lesson, I became more peaceful when reacting to my own problems and my interactions with most people. Some individuals wear all of their problems on their sleeve, yet others silently deal with them. So when I encounter people, I understand that most are dealing with something and treat them that more kindly. Recently I was listening to an interview of Curtis Martin, who was a former running back in the NFL and just inducted into the Hall of Fame. When asked about his tough childhood, he said not to use our hardships as excuses to fail but to rather use them to create something greater. His most memorable quote from that interview is powerful: “Life is built on what you overcome.” Instead of viewing our trials/tags as stumbling blocks, we should instead overcome them and view them as the building blocks of our lives. They in turn create a strong foundation.
Until next time, I wish all of us the peace that comes from having compassion for ourselves and for our fellow visible and invisible tag wearers. ✿