There is a certain amount of freedom that comes with cancer. Sounds odd, but in truth it can be liberating. For the first time in my life, I easily and without guilt can say no.
You see, I’ve spent my adult life doing for others. I thought it was my calling, to give of myself until there was almost nothing left to give. If there was a favor, or a job, or a task asked of me, if I was breathing, I would commit to doing said deed – to the point of surviving on little or no sleep at times. My husband always hated how I would cram 15 pounds of activity in a five-pound bag. I would juggle and stress and stretch myself because I felt, if the good Lord put the task in front of me, who am I to deny my time and talent? I didn’t have a lot of money to give, but by gosh, I was going to give of my time until I couldn’t any more.
That time has come.
In the six to eight months before my diagnosis, I noticed how much harder it was to balance work, volunteering, family…all the balls I had so effortlessly kept floating in the air for the past decades of my life. Granted, that was an extremely stressful time in my life, between being short-handed at work and other changes in my job, and the normal strain of a robotics season (one of my passions that I have been involved with for 10 years), there were times I felt at a breaking point. But I plugged on and made it (whatever “it” was at the moment) happen, because that is the difference between success and failure.
There was one time in particular, during training in a new software system for work, I received text messages of a robotics situation that required immediate attention. My choices were to ignore it and have the kids on the team (about 20) miss the opportunity to experience the national championship – what they had worked extremely hard at for several months – or make it happen. I don’t let people down. Somehow I got through training and juggled numerous steps needed for the team to travel to St. Louis, the ultimate dream of every robotics team.
However, I never went with them. The week before we were set to leave, I received my diagnosis of metastatic melanoma. While they would be (hopefully) having the time of their lives, I would be going through tests to determine the extent of metastasis. It was a bittersweet time. For once, they fully realized the extent of everything I do for such an event. I followed them as best I could online, but I missed the thrill of the championship and the culmination of the high school careers for some kids I had worked with for the past four years. They texted me telling me to watch one particular match. As the announcer introduced the team for the match, he also said they dedicated the match to me because I couldn’t be there for health reasons. On the robot they placed a ribbon that said, “Carol Strong.”
But it’s funny how life works, or how God guides us, depending on your beliefs. My role as a 4-H leader, which I held for a number of years, was easily relinquished when our club leader retired this summer. I could feel burdens falling from my shoulders. That’s where the freedom of cancer stepped in. From the writing group I have run for about 12 years, to being part of a local committee for FIRST LEGO League (FLL), I knew I had to say no. I know I have to simplify my life to the bare essentials – my health, family, friends and work (since retirement is not an option right now).
While there is no evidence of disease (NED) at this time, I am not going to squander the energy I need to stay healthy and ward off a recurrence of melanoma. I have never done anything I didn’t firmly believe in, but right now I firmly believe in surviving and watching my grandchildren grow. I am confident in time I will find new direction, because I was given this cross to bear for a reason – one I am still figuring out. Now though, for the first time in a long time, my focus has turned to me…for the sake of my family.
A close friend of mine joked that she didn’t know who she was talking to when I told her this. If I hadn’t quit a specific activity, she was going to use her authority to tell me I couldn’t do it. I’m okay with saying no though. The time has come, the time is now, to go, go, go. I don’t care how – but I am going for survival. I have people who depend on me, and I will not let them down.