Last week saw the celebration for the birthday of a special lady. Someone who has recently survived breast cancer and who dealt with the prospect of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy with dignity and grace.
There will have been quiet moments when she raged against the fates that dealt her this hand, when she must have wondered if she’d survive to watch her children grow, marry and have families of their own. Whether she would have the strength to face the battle each day as the treatment became more gruelling.
From the beginning she saw the cancer as her next ‘project’. She researched, read, prepared herself for battle, determined this was something she would take charge of and ultimately overcome.
A battle made more complex because she is living outside her home country.
She discussed her treatment options in Dutch and English and, although she speaks both, did not have the comfort of any discussion in her mother tongue.
Her birthday lunch wasn’t so much a celebration at her having reached a significant age, which she has, but a triumphant acknowledgement she has beaten cancer and come out the other side, strong, resilient and radiant.
I am constantly humbled by the number of people I’ve known who refuse to be defined by the heart breaking things that have happened to them or members of their families. They have shown incredible reserves of strength, resilience and bravery, and kept battling when they had nothing else to give. Because they had to, because there was no alternative.
I have watched friends cope with blows so hard you wonder if they will recover, have cried for the pain they have suffered and will continue to endure.
They are the ones in the front line – we are mere observers who, in the darkest hours, wonder if we would be as strong in the same circumstances and secretly thank the fates we have not been tested… although we also hear the quiet whispers that remind us, Ahh, not yet, but no one knows what’s around the corner, who might be next…
Life is random. We do the best we can. We want to help others through bad times in the unspoken acknowledgement it could be any of us. And those who have suffered the cruellest of blows know they are not immune from something equally devastating happening again.
It is people like these, women and men, who have walked with loss, darkness, fear and despair, who, for me, define what it is to be a role model. Forget the cult of celebrity, fame and reality TV, the one-dimensional wannabe superstars hyped by the media as important and newsworthy.
Give me real people, who lead by example and good conscience. Who do not have a sense of entitlement but cope with what life gives them the best way they can, though they may want to throw in the towel and turn their faces to the wall.
Real people quietly coping with death, illness, abuse, divorce, losing a job, or carrying an intolerable burden – their courage and quiet fortitude humbles me.
To the quiet heroes who live among us, who teach us to be our best during the darkest times, thank you.