Being Brave in a Cancer World

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In the past month, the topic of bravery has surfaced a number of times in my conversations with people. Perhaps it is because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and there is a lot of focus on people dealing with breast cancer. I know that when something consistently pops up in different ways in my consciousness, I need to acknowledge it and listen to what it is trying to say.

“Bravery means acceptance of where I am and that this is my path, wherever it takes me.”

Bravery- The Definition

The dictionary definition of bravery: To endure or face unpleasant conditions without showing fear; ready to face or endure danger or pain.

People often refer to someone who is dealing with cancer as “brave”. I think when it comes to facing cancer; this definition is not accurate. Bravery implies choice and there is no choice when it comes to cancer. It chooses you. Those of us who have had cancer have been required to be brave in many ways and I think it shortchanges us to have a label put on us that connotes a lack of fear. Many of us feel plenty of fear! The reality is we recognize that fear and yet continue on with whatever it is that we have to do to get better, if possible. Sometimes, that fear also means dealing with end of life issues with dignity.

Perhaps, the brave person is the one who is able to express those fears and continue on without folding. I have recently done some work with a group of women who all have metastatic breast cancer. I asked them what being brave meant to them and they told me that it means finding meaning and joy in each day, having the courage to discuss with their friends and family their concerns and preparations for the future and getting comfortable with the knowledge that they know there is an end point for them some day sooner than they would like it. Some times the brave thing to do is break down in order to rebuild in a more resilient version of us.

Speaking our Truth

Once diagnosed with cancer, the opinions of doctors and the medical community take on an enormous role in determining the course of treatment and guiding us through the process of tests, surgical procedures, blood work, chemo and radiation. Often it is possible to feel caught in between doctors and their potential tools of healing and lose touch with what is the right thing for each of us.

Bravery can also include empowering oneself to speak up about healthcare needs and concerns to our providers and caregivers. This may also mean saying “no” to what doesn’t feel right even if it goes against what others recommend.

One of my clients told me that in the end, “bravery means acceptance of where I am and that this is my path, wherever it takes me.”

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One Comment

  1. Avatar
    Janine Mariscotti / November 15, 2017 at 6:36 pm /Reply

    As a cancer-survivor and lover of words, I’m fascinated by the idea of being brave vs. having courage.

    I found this on a blog called “Grammar Party”:

    “Bravery is the ‘quality or state of being brave,’ and Merriam-Webster, in its unabridged online version, defines brave as ‘resolute in facing odds; able to meet danger or endure pain or hardship without giving in to fear.’ The unabridged dictionary defines courage as ‘mental or moral strength enabling one to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty firmly and resolutely.’

    Merriam-Webster notes that courage is linked historically to cœur, the French word for heart. Brave, on the other hand, comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning ‘brave, bold.’ Bravo, interestingly enough, originally meant ‘wild, savage,’ says the Online Etymology Dictionary.

    There is a quote that goes ‘The line between bravery and stupidity is so thin that you don’t know you’ve crossed it until you’re dead.’

    That’s the main takeaway when you consider the etymology. Bravery can be the split-second decision to run into a field filled with flying arrows. Bravery can be dangerously close to stupidity, to wild and savage.

    Courage, however, takes something deeper. It takes heart. Courage is donating a kidney to your sister because you love her so deeply. Courage is a doctor or a nurse choosing to work in an Ebola-stricken region because they want to relieve human suffering” (

    As a person with cancer, I can’t say I ever felt brave. But I did often pray for courage.

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