It’s been almost 15 years since I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. Fourteen years since I was diagnosed with cancer. And a whopping eight months since I was diagnosed with diabetes. All three of those have taught me the same thing: what fear feels like.
They showed me the kind of fear that starts as a small knot in my stomach. It spreads upward into my throat creating a lump so hard breathing hurts. Fear snakes around my heart making it thrash out of control. Sweat beads on my upper lip. I know what fear feels like.
Waiting for the outcome of the next test and worrying myself sick. What if the cancer comes back? What if MG goes out of control and I can’t breathe? What if diabetes makes me go blind? Or lose my feet? Or… Oh yes. I know what fear feels like.
I also know what courage feels like. Fear throws every kind of question at me, warning me of potential battles. Courage reminds me of where I have already been. Courage reminds me of battles I have fought, and scars I have earned.
I know what it takes to survive open chest surgery. It hurt, but I won. To combat MG I stared down 23 back to back cycles of chemotherapy. It hurt, but I still won. I survived cancer once. If I have to, I will survive it again. Diabetes has yet to show me its true power, but I have honed my courage to a razor sharp edge and I am ready to meet it nonetheless.
Strengthening courage comes in tiny chunks for me. Every time I test my blood sugar and feel the lancet snap, I add a little courage. The deep breath I take before injecting insulin, that adds courage. Chemotherapy pills in my palm, knowing they are going to make me feel horrible, but lifting them to my mouth and swallowing them anyway, adds courage. I don’t take courage lightly. Sometimes courage is all I have.
Those of us facing serious illnesses can build our courage by pausing to honor the brave choices we’ve made in the past. Did you go to the doctor’s appointment, or hide in the car? Even if you spent half an hour sobbing in the car, finally going to a dreaded appointment took courage. Courage isn’t always feeling brave. Sometimes courage is built by feeling terrified and moving forward anyway. Numbering the times when we made a brave choice is empowering. It reminds us that we have been brave in the past. Knowing that helps us trust we will be brave in the future.
You can be brave next time fear rises in your throat. Remember to honor the bravery you showed yesterday, last month, six years ago. Stack all of your brave moments into a mountain of courage and stand tall on it. You deserve to stand tall, but you don't have to stand alone. I’ll stand right there next to you.