Happy Birthday, Courage

Today is my third birthday…sort of. On this day, three incredibly long years ago, my wonderfully talented surgeon removed the tumors that were invisibly and silently killing me–and gave me new life. A new life I was temporarily unable to enjoy, while more doctors and nurses filled my veins with toxic chemicals and radiation designed to kill the microscopic cells that threatened to take over where the tumors had left off. But a new life, nonetheless.

Now that I am three years out, the first hurdle in the life of a triple negative breast cancer survivor has been reached; and I am finally, for the most part, enjoying my new life without too many chronic problems left over from the cure of the nasty disease.

Today is also the third birthday of one of my newer friends, Courage. Courage was given to me by the hospital staff following my surgery. He was useful for holding my side firm when I had to cough or sneeze or during any of the other sudden movements that make surgical incisions hurt. He was with me in the weeks following surgery, when I would venture out in public, just in case I needed that little extra cushion or a comfy place to keep my arm slightly elevated.

More than this, however, Courage was always with me, to remind me that there were many out there who cared about what I was going through–some who had walked that road before; others who were simply in tune with the suffering of others and wanted to help’ and some who were trained to be there for me during the dark days ahead. But Courage was there to remind me of their existence, even when I couldn’t see them, to comfort me when others were unavailable, to give me a little boost of courage on the bad days, and to bring a smile to my face–because, after all, who could look at his lovely fuzzy face and NOT smile?

Just look at that face!

Today, as I remembered the events of three years ago and the gift of my little friend, I pondered over his name and what it means to me. Courage, by definition, is the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear; bravery. The Middle English origin, corage, and the Old French origin, cuer, both mean “heart.” So courage is heart.

Heart, according to Webster’s, is the center of emotion; the center of the total personality; a capacity for sympathy, feeling, affection; spirit, courage or enthusiasm; the innermost or central part of anything; the vital or essential part; core. So taking these definitions, here is what I get: courage is the vital, innermost part of spirit, which is the essential part of conscious life; the vital principle in humans, which animates the body or mediates between body and soul. Sorry, the English major is showing again; I’ll try to translate all that dictionary jargon.

Courage is vital to humanity. It is the core of our spirit, it literally brings the life, or animation, to our existence. Without courage, we have no heart, enthusiasm…no energy.

There were many times over the months of chemotherapy and radiation that I wanted to “give up.” There were even times when I begged the doctors NOT to continue the treatments. It was hard; it was painful; it was agonizingly frightening to wake up each Monday knowing they were going to fill my veins again with chemicals that were none-to-slowly killing every cell in my body–both the good ones and the bad ones.

Many, many times I wanted to just stay in bed, bury myself in the blankets, and pretend that the world didn’t exist and that cancer wasn’t real and that I really didn’t have to continue this weekly torture anymore. I just wanted to hide and pretend that life had stopped. Looking at the definition of courage, I guess at least in those moments, my life had stopped. I ceased to be filled with sympathy, affection, spirit or enthusiasm; I had ceased to want life.

Thankfully, on those really difficult days, my doctor would lovingly smile, nod, hold my hand–sometimes even wrap a shy arm around my shoulders–and gently walk me back to the infusion room. She knew what I didn’t–I had courage. I didn’t want to stop living. I didn’t really want to give up and give in. She knew that I could make through the weeks ahead and find myself on the other side of the agony. She knew that once I did, I would once again choose to have courage, choose to be enthusiastic, choose to have life.

So now, three years old and ready to fill my life with all things enthusiastic and animated, I am celebrating the courage that helped me get to where I am right now. Happy birthday, Courage! Happy birthday, New Life!

4 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Courage

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