by Sue Glader
Inner strength is so much sexier than outer strength.
Don’t get me wrong; muscles are great to look at, and I sure do appreciate a toned body. But knowing what you are made of – what resides in your insides – will serve you your whole life through.
I know a little something about this. 18 years ago this month I was handed a breast cancer diagnosis a little over a year after I welcomed my child, Hans, into the world. I was 33 and breastfeeding him. This was a time when I was concentrating on life: making a great one with my husband, Anders, and helping sculpt a carefree one with Hans. My own demise wasn’t ever part of the equation until, suddenly, it was.
Heretofore a flee-er (someone who deals with difficult situations by simply leaving the room or changing the subject), I got my first lessons with true inner strength thanks to my cancer.
Oh, how I wanted to bolt from my daily radiation appointments, when I faced the massive equipment sitting like an oracle in the center of the treatment room. After being positioned just so on my back, and asked to lie perfectly still, the last thing I heard were the words “all clear” from the technician hot-footing it from the room and the sound of the door closing with a solid ka-chunk behind her.
What I would have given to hold Anders’ hand at that moment! Or at least have another human being near. Chemotherapy was creepy, but at least it was social. For surgery I was unconscious, which has its advantages.
But I had no choice for radiation. Awake, alone and worried that crying would make me wobble too much, I spoke to myself with kind words.
“This is not fair, Sue. Not fair at all.”
“Just breathe. Every breath gets you one step closer to being out of this room.”
“All the freaky sounds from this machine are actually healing you.”
“You are doing great. All you have to do is just lie here. Just chill.”
These soothing thoughts allowed me to do what needed to be done.
That is how I accessed my inner strength that day. And every day for 6 weeks, I worked out that muscle. Every day it got easier. I grew stronger mentally, and started to reframe what I was capable of. I figured if I could get through this, I could get through anything, right?
After treatment ended, another thought snuck in. Maybe by sharing my positivity, I could help others walking in my shoes. In helping others, maybe … just maybe … I could reimagine my cancer experience. I could turn it from horrid into helpful. Hopeful.
Nowhere Hair was born from this desire. My children’s book was written for little ones who might not understand what’s happening to mommy during chemo. Children need to understand that cancer is not a germ that you can catch. Love and hugs and kisses are welcome more than ever. And the other big concept to impart is that a child did not cause his or her parent’s cancer. Refusing to eat vegetables did not cause it. Nor fighting with siblings. Basically, mom or dad’s cancer is not their fault.
The book asks adults to be strong enough to include their children in their cancer experience, instead of hiding it from them or shutting down their feelings by never addressing them.
I hired a fashion illustrator to remind women that even though they are bald and grieving their own lives, they are still brave and bold and beautiful. Stylish even. Nowhere Hair helps people big and small to find their voice.
So whether your inner strength comes when you call it with gentle words, or you need to access your bad-ass, fired-up, you-can-DO-THIS mojo-rising self, know one thing:
You are so much stronger than you think.
Sue Glader is a writer, mother and 18-year breast cancer survivor living in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of Nowhere Hair, a children’s book that gently and also playfully explains life during chemo and addresses the biggest concerns of young children. www.NowhereHair.com. Nowhere Hair is available from Amazon, both in English and translated into Spanish (¿y el pelo?).