Am I a Warrior?

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Warrior : a brave or experienced soldier or fighter

I don’t run from a fight. And I’ve seen my share of battles. Not on the field with guns, but battles nonetheless. I’ve considered myself a warrior for decades now, but recently, I felt I had lost all sense of courage. I felt vulnerable, scared, and nothing like a warrior.

What made me feel weak and scared? Statistics. Statistics that 1 in 3 of us “lucky ones” who were diagnosed early and who “beat” breast cancer once will die from metasticized breast cancer. It comes back, you see, for one in three, and those are not good odds.

A couple of weeks ago, I met a young woman. A vibrant, cheerful, young, fit, vivacious young woman, who volunteers for a breast cancer related foundation. I assumed that she did it because she had lost a mother, and aunt, a friend. No. She is 27, and living, dying(?) with metasticized breast cancer.

I don’t know her full story, but when I found out, I knew that my efforts to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research would shift fundamentally. Early detection is important, support for the brave warriors who made it through their first or second bout with breast cancer is important, but nowhere is support more critically needed than for research for stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

My new friend lit a spark in me to rally behind her, to do what I can to make sure that she does not feel alone, to get people to notice how urgently we need to focus research money on finding a cure. I started the week full of purpose and energy.

And by the end of the week, I was scared, crying, imagining the day when I am told that the cancer I “beat” more than six years ago has returned, and I have X number of months to get my affairs in order.  

You see, every six months I am scanned and tested, monitored for signs of recurrence. I am immensely grateful that I have health insurance, a team of doctors and healers who keep an eye on me. But the scan that I have next week starts to creep into my days, infusing them with anxiety about results. Will this be the one? What will they see? Have I lived well enough since the last scan to be able to face the one I don’t want to hear?

If a warrior is defined by experience, then I am am definitely a warrior. But is there a point where the amount of courage I have, or lack, makes me unworthy of the title? The way I felt last week made me think that I had fallen from warrior status.

Knowing that sitting in meditation will always help to cut through circling thoughts, I sat. And sat some more. I practiced yoga, went about my day, and sat some again. Eventually, what I remembered was that warriors are not in a constant state of attack. Warriors are made. And warriors endure.

The brave, battle fatigued warrior is only part of any individual person. Many of us became a warrior by necessity, in a watershed moment where courage and tenacity was the only way to survive. And after that moment, if we're lucky, and supported, we integrate the experience into our whole selves, and try to put together a new idea of who we are. For many, we see ourselves as courageous, purposeful, focused, compassionate, humble, and powerfully strong, for the first time.

Living our lives as warriors means that we accept that we are brave, we accept it wholeheartedly and integrate it into our self identity. We know that we have it in us to fight, even though we may still feel fear. Living our lives as warriors means that we cultivate the peaceful, focused, faithful, calm equanimity of a warrior off the battlefield so that we can live life with joy and confidence. All of life is not a battlefield, and we need to learn how to be a ready warrior, a warrior who sits peacefully and who lives joyfully when battle mode is not necessary.

I still feel anxiety over my upcoming scan. I feel tightness in my stomach when I read statistics about how I may die one day. But I also know the depth of my strength and courage, my resiliency and determination to step back into equanimity when I feel the spiral of fear trying to grab hold of me. I know that when I need to, I can turn on battle mode. I know that even though, thank god, my whole life is not a battlefield, I am a warrior who lives life with purpose.