This morning I received news that a friend of mine, fellow camp counselor and cancer survivor passed away yesterday.
I find it hard to articulate how I feel each time I lose someone to cancer. I’m not sure what is more unsettling; the stupid fact that people are still actually dying from it or that I forget and am surprised at how deeply I am still affected by this disease.
Carla was a quiet fighter and a soft but strong leader. My girl loved to dress up and look good. She knew that having to go through cancer, and even worse the treatment, it was important to revel in the little things to make yourself feel better. She worked for her self esteem and she empowered her young campers to do the same for themselves. We shared the same first year as counselors together in 2010, and I know it changed all of us. As children, camp was a place of refuge and safety. Who you are was all that mattered, not what you’ve been through or what you look like. As adults, camp was a place of empowerment. To see just how much our daily lives are a testament to those who wonder how they will get through even another day in the bodies that they’re in.
After cancer, I now have camp that continues to teach me important lessons about life. That our bodies are like envelopes that are just the carrying case for the more important part of who we are. We are the message inside these beat up, worn down and broken bodies. No matter how we arrive the message remains clear that it is not how we are but who we are that holds value. The message is where we both find strength but also get to write our own ways to find it when it’s needed. Our value is not in the battles we face but rather how we fight. What has happened to us is not punishment. We are not what has happened to us nor will we ever be. But because of what happened to us, we are blessed with the opportunity to find the sources of strength some will never even know they have.
Our bodies betrayed us, and it changed the way we are carried. But people betray themselves all the time. The difference between me and someone who has never had cancer, or lost a limb is that we found the most powerful part of our body is our mind. When your body betrays you with cancer, you don’t get very many chances for “do-overs.” When you’re betrayed by your mind it’s hard to see or even take that kind of accountability. That kind of betrayal can last a lifetime.
So while I take today to reassess where I am and what I am doing in my career, I am checking in with myself and feel even more faithful in my message. I want my letter to read that even though my body betrayed me; my mind was stronger. While an outside part of you is broken, weaker, or even missing you will find that the only part of you that dictates what you do will be the fire that burns within. My chapter in sport right now is a testament for those with and without disabilities to see that we are not what happens to us; we are not our weakest asset but rather we are our strongest asset and we get to choose who we want to be.
You are not thrown into the fire, you are the fire.
I’m blessed to have known Carla, to see her lead and to watch her grace up until her final days. Thank you for your living testament and you don’t even need your envelope anymore; your letter is being received.