I belong to two private online forums, one for people diagnosed with cancer in their 20s, 30s and 40s, Shine Cancer Support, the other for people aged under 50 who are grieving the death of their partner, WAY Widowed and Young.
I’m yet to find one online forum combining both criteria, young cancer patient and young widow; I’m sure I’m not the only one going through the same circumstances but perhaps it would be too sad to find myself in an even smaller minority. [UPDATE September 2017] I have since discovered that at least seven other young widows are going or have undergone cancer treatment, either whilst caring for their dying husband or since windowing…an exclusive club indeed.
In these forums we share our experiences in a safe, supportive environment with other people who are going through similar circumstances in their lives, without prejudices or fear of recrimination. It is remarkable how similar some of the discussions are in both forums. One that comes up often, and which seems to leave a lot of us riling, is people in general telling us how brave we are for carrying on with our lives, for still being able to function and I guess for not “having lost the plot”.
I want to dispel a myth, I didn’t choose bravery. The circumstances of my life just happened, there was no plan, heck who would plan such a life? Anyway, there was a time when I did have a neat little plan, an expectation which did not turn out as I’d thought.
But I digress, back to bravery.
No I am not brave.
Brave are the refugees fleeing war-torn countries, risking life and limb in the hope they will carve out a better life for their families in a far away land. Brave are the doctors and nurses who risk their health to care for sick people wherever their vocation takes them. Brave are those who speak out against injustice whichever form it takes.
I am sure there are many more worthy examples of bravery that you can think of.
No, I am not brave.
I continue with life as best I can. It is not perfect, and if ever you see me and have the compulsion to say “you are doing so well!”, please know it is just a facade, an illusion, the mask that I must wear everyday to make sure I am not left behind, because life still goes on. This is the performance I have become accustomed to so that I can make it through each day. As the saying goes, fake it ’till you make it.
This does not mean I never take the mask off or that I don’t stop performing, oh I do, everyday! And when I do, those around me get to see how brave really I am not. But I have had to plough through because there is no choice, because the world does not stop, because not carrying on would be cowardice, and that’s definitely a label I am not willing to carry.