Capes are Optional Part II
Superhero stories inspire us to cope with adversity. Superheroes face “the bad guys” for us. They are both male and female, all ages and shapes. Throughout history it has been fairly easy to spot superheroes; they are those who have chosen altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power. A bit of cliché but nevertheless, we may personally encounter them as soldiers, firefighters, doctors, or police. We may find them in the usual places, or we may go to our local multiplex to be entertained by Hollywood actors like Will Smith and Bruce Willis who earn great money to play the hero.
In contemporary movies we have heroes who are up against great odds, for instance, Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Spiderman. Harry Potter experienced trauma with the loss of his parents. As a result he dedicated his life to overcoming Voldemort, while supporting good people and right actions. Some people may argue that his role was part of his destiny just like the mark on his forehead. In any case he often felt like the reluctant hero. In real life many people experience stress-induced growth during and after a trauma and thereby dedicate their lives to helping others. Anytime we are faced with something like cancer that is beyond our control, we experience powerlessness. Powerlessness does not mean curling up in your bed, it means we listen to others, (including God), who have wisdom and experience we do not have. In other words we need not play God. Instead we take the next right step whatever that may be. We take action with guidance, just like Dumbledore offered Harry.
Destiny and chance often overlap and it’s hard to identify them as separate life altering experiences. Buffy and Harry were often called “The Chosen Ones”. Both desired to be “just normal teenagers”, yet they both threw themselves into their destiny. Those of us who have dealt with cancer can identify with having to grow up sooner than we wished. Those of us who had loved ones who have faced cancer with us were also given the choice to face a new destiny, or not. Given the odds of a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer as one out of three, there is a pretty good chance that we could call that modern destiny. When we are diagnosed with cancer some people, including myself, felt it was time to change our lives or die. That could be called destiny also: change or die.
Spiderman’s heroism is an example of sheer chance. His beloved uncle was murdered on the streets. This event turned his life from selfishness to altruism. Spiderman’s life story is an example of how random events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path. Those of the cancer tribe whose lovers, mothers, sisters, brothers, or friends died from cancer were struck by a “random event” and that was their tipping point. That may have been the moment when they knew they needed to alter their lives. The catalyst for cancer seems to be both predictable and random. We can look at family history, or for example, exposure to toxic chemicals. Even with all of the information of our modern age, cancer can still be random. How we face that random event is another way we become heroes.
Superheroes inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity and trauma, and finding meaning in loss. When we are called to the task we discover our strengths and use them for good purpose. Wearing a cape, assuming a new name, or believing we have superpowers is optional. Perhaps our greatest power is empathy. The lovers of cancer survivors and those who have crossed over may develop that power to the “nth” degree. Maybe developing the empathy muscle makes us better people, and in making us better people we uncover more of our heroism. In any case, anyone who encounters cancer on any level may face the three catalysts: trauma, destiny and chance, sometimes all three at once. As we all claim cancer as our teacher, we celebrate our heroism.
Each of the authors included in this anthology are heroes in their own right. Some became cancer warriors, others watched their loved ones struggle and awaken to their own heroism. All are part of the growing cancer tribe. How many people do you know who have been affected by cancer? What is your story?