I have always wondered why people refer to their cancer diagnosis as a gift. Gifts are supposed to be exciting, fun and come from love. If being diagnosed with lung cancer was a gift, I would have returned it a long time ago!
But, I am a believer in silver linings; finding the positive in a situation no matter how unpleasant, difficult or even painful it may be. I know it’s easier said than done, but after losing my parents and other loved ones to lung cancer at a young age, I learned that it was my choice about how I respond to and handle the inevitable adversity we face in life.
I have chosen to find the silver linings. Finding the silver lining (which isn’t always easy!) provides balance and perspective during tough times. The ability to find something positive among the negative is empowering, and to find meaning in tragedy helps give both physical and emotional suffering a purpose. That purpose, and meaning, gives me a reason to keep going, to believe, to have hope.
Over the years I’ve learned that silver linings can be as small as your first walk to the corner after surgery or as big as being told you’re cancer-free. I’ve learned that silver linings don’t take away pain, sadness or isolation, but they do help lessen the blow at times. Most importantly, I have learned that finding the silver lining is a choice ~ sometimes it’s hard to find, but it’s there if you look hard enough.
In the very large dark cloud of lung cancer that has tormented me for 30 years I have found several silver linings. Below are just a few:
- Inexplicable tragedy can create an opportunity to take anger and sadness and turn it into positive change. For the past 11 years LUNGevity has been a vehicle to redirect my negative feelings into action, which has helped me reconcile with losing so many people I loved to lung cancer. It also helped me because my involvement with LUNGevity armed me with the weapons (knowledge, friendships and relationships with doctors and nurses) I needed to face my own lung cancer diagnosis with courage and not fear.
- Ten years ago lung cancer was the invisible disease. That is no longer the case, and I am honored that I have had the opportunity to play a critical role in the growth of LUNGevity and the fight against lung cancer. There have been more advancements in lung cancer research in the past 7 years than the 25 years prior. I have options that mom, dad and so many others didn’t like targeted therapy and focused radiation; these are major silver linings in a disease previously associated with very little hope.
- I have developed lifelong friendships and relationships with people I would have never met if it weren’t for lung cancer. Friends who understand a part of me that no one else does. Friends that I can’t imagine not being in my life.
- I have a story that matters. A story of purpose that involves all the people who have touched my life and whose lives I have touched. There is both good and bad woven into my story and sometimes it feels like the bad plays a major role, but this quote says it all, “Life is like photography, we use the negative to develop.” I do not know how my story will continue to develop, but it’s a story I am proud to tell.
- It takes a village The far-reaching unconditional support my family has received from our small community has been touching and humbling; from the sheer number of people who want to help to the unbelievable measures many have gone to support us.
The silver lining in my community reaches far beyond me personally. I am still in awe of the teenagers at Deerfield High School. The awareness and funds for research that they raised in just three weeks is mind blowing. I’m not sure they really understand that their efforts will have an impact on those affected by lung cancer for years to come. And last year our small community of 18,000 people attracted over 1,300 people and raised more than $140,000 for Breathe Deep Deerfield (a fun-run & walk) ~ something cities with millions of people have never done. The overwhelming community support gives me strength and hope.
I am excited that we have expanded the reach of our event across the northern suburbs of Chicago to create Breathe Deep North Shore. I can only imagine the impact we can have if the surrounding communities join in the fight against lung cancer. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We are that small group of thoughtful, committed citizens and we can change the world of lung cancer. Please join me at Breathe Deep North Shore on April 28th at Deerfield High School. To register or donate visit www.lungevity.org/northshore.
Of course not everyone believes there is a silver lining in their cancer experience and that’s ok. No matter where I am in my cancer journey, I will continue to find the silver lining. Why? Because it’s beautiful and it gives me hope ~ no cancer, pain or suffering can take that away!