(Editor’s note: Pink October is a series of stories highlighting breast cancer awareness month in October. The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Taylor reflects on her journey with breast cancer. Columns may contain the opinions of the author)
Warrior or survivor.
Two pens had been set before me – one marked warrior, one marked survivor. I was asked to choose the pen I felt best described my journey with breast cancer.
Which one would you choose?
I had just been unexpectedly diagnosed with an early stage of an aggressive breast cancer. There hadn’t been much time to process the news. Only eight days separated my diagnosis from my surgery. In between, were biopsies, meetings with surgeons and getting ready for what would be grueling, life changing, treatments of chemotherapy, radiation and other infusions.
Not knowing what I needed, I chose the pen marked “warrior” and then, more on a whim than anything else, I pocketed “survivor”. It was only much later that I realized that in facing cancer, as in facing life itself, you don’t need to choose between being a warrior or survivor, you need to be both.
The definition of a warrior is one who is engaged or experienced in warfare. Most of us don’t have any previous experience in warfare – it is thrust upon us. That is when we need the warrior spirit because we really are about to do battle. It requires a singular concentration.
As warriors, we are the woman or, as Teddy Roosevelt said, the man in the arena “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.” Our striving, as warriors, is just to live. And it is that very striving which needs to be celebrated.
I take issue with the numerous obituaries which read that “so and so” died after losing their fight with cancer. They didn’t lose. They were warriors who were striving to live. That should be celebrated because not many of us strive to live fully in the first place. Which brings me to that other pen, the one marked “survivor.”
When I first began my cancer journey, I didn’t do justice to what it means to survive. My image was of one limping across the finish line. How wrong I was. So, I went back to the dictionary and found that it comes from the Latin supervivere, from super + vivere – to live. And that’s what I’m discovering now – how to live and be fully alive to God’s creation.
Don’t tell me “Everything happens for a reason” or that “God won’t give you more than you can bear.” You won’t find those sayings in Scripture. These, and other sayings, are the kind of toxic positivity that gives religion a bad name. But what you will find is God saying in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord.” Note that it doesn’t say that everything is good but rather that God can bring good even out of the darkest situations. I suggest giving the person “in the arena” the room to discover that for themselves.
My discovery has led me to retire as a parish priest and find ministry in new ways. I love doing therapy dog work and find that I am most comfortable with visits with those undergoing chemotherapy. And I’m taking my own time to heal and listen for the still small voice of God for what should be the next chapter of my life. I can do that now because I’m a warrior AND survivor and I’ve got the pens to prove it!
“One day the mountain that is in front of you will be so far behind you, it will be barely visible in the distance. But the person you become in learning to get over it? That will stay with you forever.” – Brianna West.
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Taylor recently retired as the founding rector of Church of the Holy Comforter (Episcopal) in Martinez. She spent 35 years in parish ministry, breaking the glass ceiling as the first woman priest in every parish in which she served. Dr. Taylor now serves as a member of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
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