Sunny Side Up

Mary Helen Darah

Mary Helen Darah and her friend Anne share a moment of joy.

Going to my Canadian home also means that I am heading to my living, breathing north star, Anne, the woman I have called friend for as long as I can remember. Recently, she and her husband sold their cabin across the lake from ours to begin a new chapter.

Beloved Anne has stage 4 breast cancer and in her mind it was time to move closer to her two sons and their families.

I was given a few coveted rocks that she, often by my side, has collected from various pristine shorelines. In return, she requested that I promise (a pinky promise no less) to be the voice for survivors.

Anne, like myself as a survivor, has heard many things from well-intentioned people throughout her journey. For example she gets very tired of people telling her to relax. Cancer shoves you underwater while everyone on shore keeps telling you to stay calm and take a deep breath. I tried to explain this to a neighbor who kept insisting I sit down and relax when I was first diagnosed. I would have preferred she offered assistance in pulling out my washer and dryer. I did not want my dust bunnies discovered if I didn’t make it through the surgery.

I found that comments about new “equipment” are better left unsaid as well. I know my breasts were one of the few things on my 43-year-old body that were still heading north. Hearing, “Now you will have a perky new pair,” was not what I needed to hear. I liked my originals better … but they were killing me.

Being stage 4, Anne continually is asked when her treatment will end, to which she responds, “when I do.” We both have been asked if we have thought of how our diagnosis will affect our children. Believe me, when a cancer diagnosis is dished out, it comes with a big side serving of guilt. Moms want to give their children rainbows and sunshine, not the reality of getting scanned on a regular basis.

Of all the things she could have wanted me to share, the words I was sworn to spread, pertain to encouraging people not to say, “they lost their battle to cancer.” As Anne firmly noted, “The warrior metaphor is very powerful, yet when I hear someone ‘lost their fight’ after spending every waking moment battling this disease, it crushes my spirit. Cancer is not a fair fight and we survivors are anything but losers. I have done everything humanly possible to be here to make memories with my husband, my children and their families and my dear friends. You know, we are really on this earth to hold each other’s hands as we walk home. I happen to be going home sooner than I hoped or expected but I will not have lost. I have WON the wisdom that comes from going through this journey. I have intense moments of joy over the most minute moments. I take nothing, especially waking up in the morning, for granted. I practice self- care and share the gift of healing and making myself a priority with those I love. Every day that I survive I win. When I finish this journey, I am banking on the caring people in my life to remind my precious family of my victory over this disease and to show up for them with kindness, stories of how I hopefully pulled at their heart strings and perhaps a few casseroles.”

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