On Being Strong


During class on Thursday, the professor asked for prayer requests (it's a Christian college), and I mentioned my son's upcoming barrage of tests and check ups with at least four different doctors over the span of two weeks. I did my brief background elevator pitch "he had cancer, is better, I'm still traumatized, etc". 

He paused and his response was sincere, "to go through that, you must be really strong". 

The comment startled me. I didn't know what to say. I ended up mumbling something and just looked down at my paper... It's not his fault. It was a nice compliment, I'm sure. However I've gotten this before, and I never know what to say. I never know how to react. Especially because it's usually followed by "I could never go through that" or some other self-depreciating comment. 

Let me be blunt about all of this: 

The sheer fact that my son having cancer does not inherently mean that I'm strong. It means I am comfortable wearing slippers at the hospital and my mental health is a fun adventure involving lots of therapy now, but not strong.

I didn't choose to take on my son's cancer or do anything that cured him. I was a passenger on the journey. That doesn't make me strong, it makes me a mom. A mom who is not a dead beat, but then again, most moms are not. 

The reason I am so adverse to this is that I feel it discredits the real strength in those situations, and each persons ability to get through it. What makes someone strong is not the disease they get but how they handle it. My son's cancer is just a situation we lived in, not a characteristic of him or me. It's a person's ability to rise to the occasion, to stay positive, to not let hardship kill their spirit and dreams, that is the strength. That's not the power of disease but that of the human spirit. 

Eleanor Roosevelt said " Women are like tea. You don't know how strong they are until they are in hot water." And yes, that is true for all of us.

Many of my friends and family just don't believe this about themselves. I get a lot of "I couldn't do what you do", which is beyond frustrating and unnerving. I know them better though. They have the same strength I do, I promise you that. Maybe even more. They are mothers and fathers who would do whatever their child needed them to do. They'd make mistakes like I did and would excel like I did. It would just look different, then how I did it. That's all. 

I know I have blogged this rant before but this week it grabbed me again: Hold me in high esteem for how I tried to find joy on a daily basis, or how my faith grew immensely during the whole ordeal, but don't praise me just because my kid had cancer. It does mean I went through a very hard time, and I appreciate when that is acknowledged. Cancer doesn't dictate someone's character. Their actions do.