This month we focus on Breast Cancer Awareness; there are pink balloons and ribbons, special flower bouquets at the grocery floral shop, walks and runs to raise money for research and treatment. Some have called it ‘Pinktober’ with the flurry of pink, and sometimes that feels as excessive as the overdoing of pumpkin-flavored everything.
Last week I listened to an interview by Natalie Morales of Olivia Newton-John of Grease fame. She’s been dealing with metastatic breast cancer since 1992 when she was first diagnosed. Now she’s in her third recurrence and she described some of the pain from cancer’s spread to her bones. Throughout the interview, I was impressed by Olivia’s emphasis on enjoying life, in spite of her difficulty. It’s a comfortable conversation, since over the years Natalie has interviewed Olivia many times.
Natalie’s questions focused in on how Olivia has adapted to the changes in her life since her initial diagnosis.
“What you think creates your reality,” Olivia told her. “You have a choice in how you deal with what happens.”
These are wise words from a woman who has dealt with a life-threatening illness for many years. She could be paralized by fear and bitterness, waiting for that storm cloud that hovers to appear at any moment, that lurking thief of joy.
But instead, she exhibits grace and purpose and uses her wealth and energy to help others. She’s developed the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in her native Melbourne, Australia, offering world-class cancer treatment.
Now, I consider the difference in being a survivor and a thriver. Not everyone will deal with breast cancer, but everyone will experience hardships along the way. I know what the words survive and thrive mean, but I returned to dictionary.com to consider more closely the shades of meaning.
To survive is “to continue to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or set backs”
To thrive is ” to grow or develop vigorously: to flourish”
I consider these definitions applied to breast cancer. Some days after intensive treatment, just to be able to function is truly an accomplishment; To walk to the mailbox, to cook a meal, to shower and dress– what was once automatic functioning may take all the energy and concentration one can muster.
On other days, surviving is prospering in spite of; these are the days when life opens up through new ways of seeing, new ways of being. They are the moments when you look into a flower and see the rich interior world for the first time; they are the minutes of holding your grandchild’s hand and walking down a path and feeling joy inexpressible; they are the times when long-held regret gives way to forgiveness. When one dwells in those ways of thinking, then the moment-by-moment choices develop into a life that is thriving.
Recently a friend shared with me her concern for a family member who is suffering. After my friend told me about all the ways this is impacting the young woman’s life, I responded that I would be praying for her. Specifically, I’d pray that she would receive the help she needed to be restored “physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.”
Later, I thought of what I’d said to my friend, and it occurred to me that we all need that type of healing to have a life that is whole. Now, I think this overlaps with how to become a Thriver; we allow our thinking to open up and reimagine our lives; we allow for our healing and wholeness in all areas–beyond our physical selves whether invaded by cancer or some other disease. We see possibility in each moment and let go of the nagging worries and ever-present anxieties that are so real, especially now.
This is breast cancer awareness month in a pandemic year; what a time of opposition, hardship, and setbacks. Some days it will feel like all we can do is keep functioning; but hopefully, eventually we’ll come to a point of prospering whatever the personal or universal challenges. Perhaps we get to that place of wholeness by self-examination through new thinking and different choices that grow our mind, body, and spirits with the outcome of transformation to thrivership.
How About You?
In what areas of your life do you feel you’re just surviving?
In what areas of your life would you like to move toward thriving? How do you need to be whole in your mind, body, emotions, and spirit?
Olivia Newton-John’s website for the Melbourne center: