Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Overcoming Adversity

Throughout my lifetime so far, I've had too many times of upheaval and struggle.  As a child, I was bullied and had to learn to keep my head high despite being thoroughly scared and apologetic.  As an adult, I've dealt with many personal issues and as a result have become a better person.  These last several months with lymphoma and chemotherapy is another one of those moments of struggle and upheaval.  I've learned to become more open and vulnerable with those around me which includes family and friends.  While I've gone through my treatments and writing my blog, I've also learned to express my heartfelt opinions even though they may not be popular.  Sometimes, I've had to defend my opinions and this is a new area for me.  I used to just agree with people even though I may not have agreed inside.  I didn't want to open myself up to ridicule or create dissension and conflict around me.  As I've mentioned before, I'm more tearful and my emotions are very close to the surface since I've finished the chemotherapy.

The last few weeks, I've been less introspective and have focused more on blogging about my activities, my strength and my stamina.  Today I had a hard knock to my emotions.  Since finishing my treatment, I've been doing some health maintenance with my family doctor.  Today I went to have some regular blood work done.  Nothing too important, just regular maintenance.  I went to the medical clinic to have my blood taken and tested for the results to be sent to my family doctor.  I decided to go without a hat today as I've got enough hair showing that you can see it now.  I felt very comfortable going without the hat.  I was thinking this is another milestone reached.  When I arrived at the clinic just after 9 a.m., it was pretty busy.  That was fine as I don't have any restrictions on my time.  I took the number and as I was walking to one of two empty chairs to wait, I heard an old lady whisper loudly, "I hate women who shave their heads!".  My hair is growing in and I currently look like a "skin head".  So it looks like I shave my head to a small amount of hair being visible.  Anyway, I heard this woman's comment and I was shocked!  I sat down and I looked over at her to see her staring at me with daggers.  All I could think was how much I wanted to respond to her with "And I hated having cancer!"  It took all my self-control to keep silent.  With a very full waiting room, I didn't want to make a scene and fall to pieces.  So I absorbed the comment and was filled with an unbelievable amount of embarrassment and hurt.  I wished I had worn my hat.  Whenever I glanced up, I felt like people were watching me.  The old woman kept looking over at me.  As I watched her, I thought she really looks unhappy and full of anger.  I wondered why she would be this way.  When my number was called, I felt relief because now I could escape from this horrible situation.  Unfortunately, the number was just to hand in the requisition and register me into the line.  I had to go sit down again.  It has been a long time since I have felt so ashamed and I wanted to cower.  I found myself staring at the floor and refusing to look up at people.  As I waited for my name to be called, I continued to feel hurt but the anger was starting to overtake it.  Unfortunately,  I was a little abrupt with the receptionist when my name was called.  I immediately felt contrite but I didn't apologize for my abruptness.  My blood was taken and I was sent on my way.  The reason I was abrupt with the receptionist was that she informed me I also had to give a urine sample.  I was not prepared for that and had to take the bottle home.

I struggled with a myriad of emotions for the next two hours.  I felt like I'd lost all my self-esteem.  I was hurt, angry and embarrassed.  I couldn't seem to stop crying.  The tears were quietly slipping down my cheeks and I couldn't seem to stop them.  My daughter was home from school because she wasn't feeling well.  She was so supportive and encouraging.  Through the support of some wonderful friends and my family, I worked my way through this quagmire of emotions and I came out the other side with my self-esteem intact.  I agree with some of my friends that say I should have retorted back to the woman in the waiting room.  If nothing else, it would have educated her.  However, I was shocked and couldn't find the voice or strength to confront her.  On the flip side, I think to offer a retort would only have perpetuated the negative attitudes.  I truly felt like a flowerbud about to open in the sunshine and warmth of healing and recovery, only to be trampled on and have the  fragile petals crushed.  Tonight, I'm back to being the flowerbud that is in the process of opening.

Through this whole experience today, I am reminded about how our words and actions are like pebbles dropped into the water with the result of far reaching ripples.  When I returned to the clinic with my sample this afternoon, I was glad to see the same receptionist working the desk.  I handed her the sample and I smiled and apologized for being grumpy and abrupt this morning with her.  Generally, I try to rise above the residue of someone's bad demeanour, mood or personality.  Many times I am not successful and I know that their negativity is contagious.  Today I eventually rose above it through the love and encouragement of my family and friends.

After much thought, I'm glad I didn't respond to the woman in the waiting room.  I know myself too well.  I would have felt immediate satisfaction by putting her in her place but I would also have felt guilt and sadness that I had lowered myself to her standards.  Tonight, I can proudly say that I left with my metal shield of integrity battered and dented, but still strong.  There is only one thing that still echoes within me from today.  I used to have a hard outer shell which protected me from people like that woman today.  I don't necessarily want the hard outer shell anymore but I need to find a way to deflect the negative attitudes of people I'll meet.  This appears to be another "project" for me to work on so that I can improve myself.  As I look at it this way, then meeting the woman today is part of a learning experience and without that interaction (not that I want to relive it), I would not have the opportunity to grow and improve.

I'll finish tonight with my Encircling Prayer which I need to remember to practice each morning.

"The Sacred Three my fortress be
Encircling me.
Come and be round
my hearth and my home."


  1. I was sorry to hear about this, Cathy. People don't think before they open their mouths. And some of them are judgmental without knowing the facts. I also used to just agree with people regardless of whether or not I agreed inside. It was a way to keep the peace. I do not like conflict, and I try very hard to avoid it. I also do not like to draw attention to myself. But as I get older, I realize that there are moments when I have no trouble voicing my opinion, or speaking back when I feel it's important to. It all depends on the situation. Sometimes it’s best to walk away.

    In any case, it upset me to hear about your day. You have been through a very trying psychological, emotional and physical period, and all that has left you fragile to begin with, so it's understandable that this woman's rudeness would knock you off your feet.

    However, my favourite part of this post is your last paragraph where you write that you are glad you did not respond to this woman. Take pride in that because, despite what others may think, it takes a strong character to walk away like that with your integrity intact. Because I do believe that retaliating in a situation like that is lowering one’s standards. This is an ignorant woman, and yes, even an angry woman. What would you gain by joining in her dance of anger? What do you think she’d learn from it? Nothing. She will continue to do what she does. That's who she is.

    As you get stronger, so will your ability to ignore remarks like this. You may even find them entertaining. Sure people like her are annoying, but on days where we feel whole and happy and confident, they amuse us with their ignorance. And sometimes we even feel sorry for them because living such an angry, judgmental and ignorant life must truly be exhausting.

    Hang in there. You are doing great.

  2. Thank you, Martha. Your support today and in the past several months has been a tremendous help. We don't live life totally alone and along the way our friends can be the figurative crutch as we limp through our trials.