Those of you who have been following along here know that this spring I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor that laid a good portion of real estate down in my airway, nearly blocking both of my lungs entirely.
Five months, two surgeries and a big ol' scar later, here I am, cancer-free and able look back on this as a blip. Hopefully it stays a blip...
And there were many things I learned during this process, of course, but the most interesting outcome has been people asking me how I stayed strong and kept hope during the uncertainty and pain, as if holding the scar meant I held some sort of secret.
Because don’t we all need some hope about now? Don’t we all just want someone to tell us it’s all going to be OK?
The truth, of course, is that I haven’t always stayed optimistic. I didn’t always hold hope up. I had plenty of moments of completely losing it, going to the darkest possible outcome in the middle of the night, or when the sun was shining, or when my kids wouldn’t stop whining in the car for fruit snacks I didn’t pack...
I had my moments.
I still do.
I’m still terrified sometimes. But not as terrified as I am grateful.
When I was first diagnosed with the tumor in Bismarck, my husband and I sat down with my doctor to take a look at it and make plans for Mayo Clinic. I remember telling them, “I can’t believe I recorded an entire album with this thing!”
And then my usually stoic husband chimed in: “Maybe you should rename it ‘Tumor Tunes.’” My doctor about choked on his mask and we all started laughing.
And I didn’t know then how bad it was going to get, or what the next six months were going to look like, but after I let my thoughts wander, I find that I somehow always default back to the place where everything is OK. Because being terrified doesn’t work for me if the end goal is that I want to go on living.
It doesn’t mean that I’m naive or unaware of precautions or process or the worst of it, but I’m pretty good at convincing myself that I will, we will, get to the other side, whatever that side looks like.
Having that mindset then frees up some space for things like laughing. Because even in a personal crisis, the world keeps on turning and I didn’t want to miss it.
But am I saying optimism is hope? In some cases, yes.
But being raised out here in the rough country of western North Dakota, I’ve watched enough calves brought inside from winter storms, witnessed Mother Nature change the best-laid plans and have been bucked off enough to be able to confidently call bull on that ol' phrase “get back up on that horse again.”
Yeah, sometimes getting back up is the only way to get through. Other times, resiliency means knowing when to put that horse out to pasture before he kills you.
Knowing when to quit can often be the bravest thing we can do.
But you don’t have to be brave to be tough. Sometimes in order to see what we’re capable of, we have to be scared out of our minds. What turns us from afraid to resilient is what we do about it.
I wish I could ask my immigrant great-grandfather Severin about how he felt coming across a million miles of ocean from Norway to lay claim on a property he’d never laid eyes on. Or what it was like riding his bicycle 80 miles cross-country to his homestead. Think he was scared as a teenager on that ocean, wondering if he’d ever see his homeland again? Think he was scared raising 12 children on this unforgiving landscape?
Think he was scared walking through a herd of cattle that a group of cowboys ran across his farmstead and sorting out the ones they had stolen from him, one by one?
And if I could ask my great-grandparents what made them keep fighting through the fear and tough times, I bet they would say what my grandparents would say, what my parents would say and what I would say now to my daughters now...
If it’s worth fighting for, it will give you a fight. And if that fight looks like sailing the ocean or walking miles alone, then you do it, even when you’re scared as hell.
But sometimes the fight looks like asking for help, and you wouldn’t guess it, but that might be the hardest part of all of it. But then, when you come up for air, screaming and kicking and ready to live again, you will know exactly how to pass it on.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at email@example.com.