The Courage to Be

By Laura Laster

When someone praises my courage, I am not sure how to react. Although I appear to be facing my illness with courage and control, I am also afraid, frequently overwhelmed and sometimes depressed.

After the first support group I attended, I remember asking the members, "How can you all be so brave?" One person told me it was because "we’ve been living with this so much longer than you have." Living with cancer, we become familiar with our condition and sometimes that blunts the pain and occasionally it may lessen the fear.

But that is not the same thing as courage.

Not feeling defeated or undone by a brain tumor is hard work. And it is constant. I work at staying physically, emotionally and spiritually strong for as many days of the week as I can manage. Occasionally I will take foolish pride in trying to be the cheeriest person in the room. By trying to be upbeat and positive, I try to make myself feel safer.

Last week I overheard my doctor use the phrase "cerebral deterioration." Suddenly he looked at me and said. "Oh, not you!" We all laughed.

As I stepped into the elevator I thought, "It may not be my diagnosis today, but it could be my diagnosis tomorrow."

The smile left my face as the terror hit.

I have found that the worst thing I can do is hide my feelings and put on my brave face, when I am not feeling at all brave. People may want to see courage, but when I feel fear and dread, I have to express them.

Bernie Siegel writes popular books about the "exceptional cancer patient." As if the burden of cancer were not enough, now we need to be held up as the standard for the exceptional patient.

But we are all exceptional every day, and that includes those days when we cry most of the day, feel utterly hopeless and just want to stay in bed.

The word courage derives from the French word coeur, meaning heart. Those of us with cancer, our hearts filled to breaking, are most courageous when we can abide the shifting array of emotions without donning the tin armor of a cancer "warrior."

an article originally published for The Brain Tumor Society (circa 2000).

to Laura's memorial page