The 'C' word

As I groped for the right words to comfort her, it was she who gave me solace.

“Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” John Diamon might have quoted this, but, I know of someone who has not only exemplified the attitude these words stand for but also inspired me with her grit and resilience. Her indomitable spirit left me contemplating on how pain and hardships need not be weights that pull us down but can be a fuel for the journey we call life.

My hands shook, my voice quivered and my mind went on an overdrive as Ms Benjamin, my friend of more than 15 years told me she had cancer. Cancer at any age is petrifying. However, cancer when you are on the wrong side of 70 is like reaching the end of the rope without having a knot there to hold on to.

I just didn’t know what to say, or how to offer her solace. As I groped for the right words, there was a sudden role reversal and it was she who gave me not only solace but also wisdom that only those chosen few who have found courage in the most unlikely circumstances can give.

She talked of her chemo sessions as though they were just a tough round of physical exercise. She voiced her fears as though they were a prerequisite to hope and philosophised her pain to an extent that it felt like panacea. All this time I thought to myself that if there is ever a lesson to learn in life, it is now. Here I was, all ready with some empathy and a lot of sympathy to offer to my elderly friend. Instead, I found myself collecting the pearls of wisdom that she gave away with such abandon. It was as if this difficult point in her life had heightened her understanding and perception of things that really mattered.

Sharing photographs, poetry, quotes, letters, songs and other everyday things took on a different dimension and she could seek and find meaning in the mundane. All I did was emotionally and mentally stand beside her and soak it all in.

My friend is slowly recovering and yes, her family and friends have played a huge role in pulling her up. However, like most meaningful fights, this is a fight with the self. This is a fight of not letting debilitating situations beat you. Sandy Fussell, children’s author and freelance writer says “Life is all about balance. Since I have only one leg, I understand that well.”

Everything can be taken away from us, our circumstances can be the most extenuating, however, what we can still retain is the attitude with which we deal with these situations. Our conditions do not make or break us, they just reveal the strength of our spirit. When a storm is raging around us, we can and should hold on to faith, to hope, to friends, to family and to love with both our hands.

Once the tempest has passed we will find in our hands the remnants of things that truly matter. And as my friend says, “Cancer may have started the fight, but I will finish it.” I believe her.

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