Throughout my life, I’ve always been the “strong” one of my family. The rock. That person who takes care of others and holds up my family members when needed. To be quite honest, I relished this role – and have always taken pride in my “strength”.
Imagine how hard it was to be the patient during my cancer treatment. I absolutely hated being the person who needed to be cared for. I would cringe at the questions about my health or how I was feeling. Although I understood that people were acting out of care and concern, it was difficult to admit that I was weak. Vulnerable.
You see, cancer forces vulnerability upon you. You cannot run away from it. It is ever-present during treatment and even afterwards.
How I First Dealt with My Vulnerability
Initially, I (of course) tried to ignore my vulnerability. I tried to act tough and told everyone (including myself) that I was fine. And that I knew I would be okay in the end.
But this was a lie. Because, in reality, I was scared to death and struggling with what I would do if the treatment didn’t work.
I limited my interactions with people to those moments that I felt the best. And was careful not to be around people when I was at my worst. My husband, my kids, my nanny Dee and my good friend Michele (who took me to most of my chemo and other appointments) were the only people who saw me at my weakest (although I tried to fake it around them too).
There are two moments that stick out to me and seem almost comically sad now.
While I was going through AC chemotherapy (which was the worst of my chemo treatment), I had to go back to the cancer center for shots two days after chemo was administered (shots that would help me produce more white blood cells). On one of those days, I barely made it out of bed and dressed in time for my friend Michele to pick me up.
When Michele asked how I was feeling, I put on my best fake smile and said I was fine. Then I proceeded to not talk AT ALL the entire ride to and from my appointment and struggled getting to and from the car and my doctor’s office. Needless to say, I was a mess and it was quite obvious. Michele never said anything (because she is truly an angel), but she’s no fool.
On another day, I woke up one morning, headed for the bathroom, and crumpled to the floor and fainted immediately after closing the bathroom door. I was able to get up pretty quickly – with Jeff banging on the door asking whether I was okay. For some ridiculously stupid reason, I told him I was fine and that nothing had happened – I had just slipped. He didn’t exactly believe me.
From Weakness to Strength
Looking back at those two moments above is embarrassing. Did I really think I was fooling anyone? But I couldn’t admit how horrible I felt. It was too vulnerable and seemed weak – not strong at all.
But you know what? That started to change over time. You see, pretending and ignoring that you aren’t vulnerable when you clearly are is extremely exhausting. By the time I finished chemo and had to have my surgeries, I was so tired that I decided to just let go.
Much to my surprise, the earth didn’t come crashing in on me. In fact, I felt lighter and happier than I had been when I was pretending and ignoring. Once I let go and embraced that I was in fact vulnerable, I was strengthened by those around me. And that was empowering.
I no longer think that being vulnerable is a weakness. Being vulnerable is courageous – it is a strength. It allows us to truly feel and be human.
What good is life if we don’t allow ourselves to feel everything? I learned, quite the hard way, that to be vulnerable is to be fully alive.
Accepting and embracing my vulnerability opened me up to receive the gifts that others were giving to me. I was able to truly connect with those around me and to gain strength from them. I now know that vulnerability is a pathway to complete healing and true growth as a human being. And to ignore and suppress your vulnerability means that you’re ignoring a large portion of who you are.
I Still Have My Moments
I’m not going to pretend that sometimes my walls don’t initially go up when I feel vulnerable. I’m still learning how to live with vulnerability. And it isn’t always easy. Sometimes it feels raw and scary.
But I remember each time that I need to truly open up and allow my vulnerability to just be. Because it truly is beautiful.
Until next time…