Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Survivor Card

Yesterday at a business event, a woman—who was a complete stranger to me--said, “I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor.” 

All day I thought about what she said, so out of the blue, and I wondered at her need to describe herself that way. I don’t know if she’s married, a mom, has cats, belongs to the Libertarian party, hates the sound of chalk on a blackboard, or loves raspberries, but I know about her breasts and her health.

What I also know is that the experience of cancer has so colored her life that it has become her primary identity. That seems as great a tragedy as the surgeries and treatments she has been through.

I know we should not be ashamed of cancer, and we do help others when we talk about it, but we also have to be mindful of not letting it define us. I am more than cancer and more than a caregiver. Yes?

Many years ago Mary Fetting, a wonderful therapist in Baltimore, helped me to make some big changes in my life. She saw how my thoughts were keeping me stuck, and she used to say to me, “Play another card.” She explained that we are each dealt a hand of cards—we get maybe seven to 10 cards each—both good stuff and bad stuff.
“But, she would say, “Some people just play the same card over and over.”  “Look at your hand,” she would say, “and play another card.”

I wanted to say that to the woman—whose name I never learned --but who believes that the most important thing about her is cancer, “Please, for the sake of your life, play another card.”

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