by Allison Gryphon
I wrote this story for my A.W. Gryphon Bits & Pieces Blog on 11 September 2011. It’s strange looking back on that now. That date came four days after my fifth of six chemotherapy sessions … and four days after I lost my dear friend and step-mom to brain cancer. I was bloated, bald, desperate for reconstructive surgery, being riddled with hot flashes and night sweats, exhausted and full of hope.
When you are alone with your soul, that what’s you have to decide, are you willing to hang on to hope? That was never an issue for me. I was full of hope and fight like I didn’t know existed. I was also full on honesty and truth on a level I never knew existed. I’d always been a straight-forward person, but with cancer it was magnified and I’m grateful that it still is. It’s that magnified truth that inspired this story of Bronwyn the Brave.
Brave. It’s a big word and honorable one. A crown that is never taken lightly by those on the giving or receiving end of it. Brave was a concept that Bronwyn had always admired. That she felt was the greatest compliment to anyone whom it was bestowed upon. A brave person was one to be celebrated and praised. Brave was a quality Bronwyn had a great deal of respect for accompanied by an adoration which she felt was welcomed and treasured by anyone on the receiving end of it no matter who or where the compliment came from. Until, that is, Bronwyn had a complete understanding of what one had to go through to be deemed, brave. Until the person on the receiving end of the title of brave was her.
Brave is one thing to someone presenting the compliment and something altogether different to the person receiving it. It isn’t that it is good or bad or negative, not at all. It is simply something you can’t imagine until you yourself have been deemed, brave. To date, that was Bronwyn’s largest lesson and realization in her journey.
She in no way wanted to complain, not at all, Bronwyn only wanted to be understood and was therefore always careful with her words when trying to explain her feelings. It was an honor for her to be thought of as an inspiration and to be held in such high esteem. It was taking quite a bit of getting used to as in Bronwyn’s mind she was simply rolling with the punches life had decided to send her way. She wanted to help and empower everyone she could, but what Bronwyn also wanted was to feel loved and to be loved, not because of what she was doing or how she was doing it, but because of who she was. Who she was completely. With all of the courage and fight she was exhibiting, for Bronwyn she was simply walking down the only path available to her. She was still a normal woman with dreams of love, career, romance and adventure. She lived for quietly watching the sun set, walking on the beach while the daylight kissed her skin and curling up under a warm blanket on a cold afternoon to watch movies and maybe order a pizza to enjoy with a good friend or a sweet love.
Bronwyn was many different things. Brave was only one of them. Brave wasn’t even something she realized she was until people began telling her that on a daily basis. It was the label that changed everything for her. For her core group of friends and family, brave was an addition to the Bronwyn they already knew. For those less close to her and just coming into her life, brave defined her or so it seemed in most cases. In the beginning that was alright, then slowly, but surely Bronwyn realized that brave put her in an invisible glass box on the shelf of a virtual museum where she could be celebrated and admired, but not touched or hugged or loved or understood for who she was as a complete person. As much as she understood and wholeheartedly appreciated the new phenomenon, the label of brave was the loneliest thing she had ever experienced in her life. It was truly the definition of a double-edged sword for her because as much as it tortured her it was the greatest compliment she had ever known.
In many ways, Bronwyn had become untouchable to others overnight and that frightened her. As elated as she was to have become a brave and inspiring being to so many, knowing that there was no going back, Bronwyn could only wonder who could see past that and who would be able to come into her life beyond the brave and truly love her. The brave her, the scared her, the quiet, the adventurous, the annoying, the playful, the good, the bad, the ordinary … all of it. How many friends would she have? How many would lose sight of her? Who would someday walk through an Italian vineyard with her simply for the soft company, taste of the grapes and peaceful bliss of the moment without it being about walking beside the brave that defined her in so many ways to so many?
It was in fact a double-edged sword and the sword belonged to Bronwyn for the remainder of her existence. It was something that could not be changed and something that Bronwyn had no desire to change. Her experience and outlook was so incredibly different than what the general consensus from the outside looking in seemed to be. Bronwyn was happy with so much of what cancer had brought into her life. Everything was different. More exciting. Better. Nothing was out of reach. Impossible was a concept that no longer lived in her world. She was in the middle of experiencing the scariest, most empowering and most liberating gift that life would ever give her and she knew that. The diagnosis and journey through the fight had given Bronwyn a perspective on life she never would have had and which she held close to her heart, understanding all the while that cancer too was a double-edged sword which angered and freed her to extremes beyond comprehension.
There were no decisions or rationalizations to be made. There was nothing here nor there to be done other than wait and see who did what and when as life continued. For Bronwyn all there was to do was express herself in the manner that felt most comfortable to her, a manner that allowed her to be. On some days that would be hard, on others liberating. It was all part of accepting the woman she was and the somewhat mythical character she was becoming. It was the beginning of Bronwyn the Brave.
Allison, a breast-cancer survivor is the founder of The Why Foundation