Strong, but Exhausted

I received a text message today from a young adult survivor of Hodgkin’s Disease that I met years ago when I spoke at a conference on cardiac late effects. He became a friend-faithful.

His text read, “Steph, I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of how strong you are and the difference you make in my life and the lives of others all over the world.”

His words were an encouragement that I need right now as life has been harsh of late, and it doesn’t appear to be getting any less harsh at least not for a while anyway.

His words carry weight because he knows the road I’m traveling because he’s at risk for many of the things I live with on a daily basis. He ‘gets it’, really gets it.

Many look at me and see strength; however, it’s the few who see my exhaustion. To be sure, I am strong, but I am thoroughly exhausted at times.

It’s important that we remind ourselves that we can be strong amidst our exhaustion, our exasperation. One doesn’t preclude or infringe upon the other. Just as we can be thankful that we are alive, yet greatly discouraged by the onset of yet another late effect of our treatment.

It’s absolutely essential that we, as survivors, be gentle and patient with ourselves as we lean into these seemingly contradictory states of being. Fellow travelers, strength and exhaustion are not contradictory. No, they are perfectly aligned when one considers the road we have traveled, the road less traveled.

Please sit with these heart-thoughts. It is the few in your life who will be able to understand; they haven’t walked this path, so find your tribe. Your tribe may not include those who were part oF your treatment, your cure.  The tribe, I speak of now, is a part of your healing, and healing is something that medicine can not offer to us. We must seek [it], pursue [it] on our own.

Healing is the solo journey of what was once a team sport.

We are tribal; I will sit with any of you through whatever you are facing, Simply ask. Life is made of moments, and our moments have been and continue to be hard-won. Yes, we are strong, persevering, tenacious, and compassionate with perhaps a tincture of cynicism.

It is equally true that we are exhausted by the knowledge that our moments, our futures are uncertain. Every time a new late effect surfaces within my body, a little piece of me dies, and I pause to lean into that loss, to grieve the loss. I know I am not alone in these losses; we all experience them all too frequently.

May we rise by lifting each other up like my friend did for me today with his text. He had no idea I needed those words today; I was brought to his mind, and he made the time to reach out.

He didn’t have to, but I am so glad that he did.

May we do the same for one another.

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