When I was in 6th grade I had to take the “Presidential Physical Fitness Test”–a series of skills that we all had to pass in gym like running, push-ups, rope-climbing and pull-ups on the bar. I liked that day in gym, because it was a break from the routine of whatever lame game they were trying to teach us, and we got to work on our own away from the gym teacher’s watchful eye. When I received my award in the mail that summer I felt puffed up and proud, reading that official document with it’s raised seal, signed by the President himself. That feeling didn’t last long, though, as a nagging voice was soon in my head reminding me that this award was not deserved– because I lied. You see, when we took the test, we were trusted to write down the exact number of repetitions we accomplished. I recorded far more pull ups than I could actually do. Girls have a hard time doing pull-ups–it’s physiological–we are built differently than boys; I probably could do a couple, but I had written down at least fifteen.
It’s ridiculous, I realize that now, to believe that I should not have received the award, everyone who was in gym would of course get the certification, it was just congress’ attempt at making the nations youth more active. To my 12 year-old-self it was a glaring example of fraud on my part, and I knew I should probably keep my mouth shut about the pull-ups lest the secret service show up at my house to take back my award.
So here I sit, 35 years later feeling the same way I did that summer day.
Recently, since riding in the PMC, some friends and blog readers have called me ‘inspirational’. Upon hearing or reading this, I get very proud and stand a little taller like I have just received a well-deserved award in the mail, but after a few minutes of self-congratulating, I am that middle school phony again. Somehow the title of ‘inspirational’ is not deserved. I can’t really fathom why I would be inspirational to another human being, but what seems to be a recurring theme when this is mentioned, is the fact that I battled cancer and I that do triathlons. I was advised by a close friend to not write this blog because it would anger my readers, the very ones who have given me the moniker, but I am hoping you will all understand that I don’t mean to piss you off or sound like I am looking for you to gush further to me about ‘how inspirational” you really think I am, I just honestly don’t get the whole thing and when my mind is grappling with a concept, the best way for me to figure it out — is to write it out. So please bear with me.
Yes I had breast cancer. So have millions of women and men around the world. Some have survived, some have died. The fact that I survived so far, has nothing to do with any act on my part. It’s just the luck of the draw. I don’t feel like I perpetuated the cancer by my actions in the first place and therefore do not deserve credit for fighting it. Sometimes treatments work, sometimes they don’t. As far as the ‘cancer-fight’ goes, I also don’t believe I fought any harder than someone who died from the disease. So my fight can’t be considered inspirational unless you want to condemn all those who have lost their lives to cancer as slackers who gave in.
Was treatment tough? Absolutely. I hated every minute of it, hated being sick, and bald and tired and worried all the time. I suppose I could have been considered inspirational during that time, only because I tried not to complain and just got through it. But every cancer patient I know doesn’t complain and seems to have the strength of thousands when it comes to their coping skills. Think about anyone you know in cancer treatment of every phase and you’ll know what I mean.
Also, I am not in treatment anymore. I am strong and healthy, probably stronger and healthier than I’ve ever been. So to call me an inspiration now makes me uncomfortable.
The other aspect of my ‘inspiration’ comes in the form of my exercise. Granted I excercise a lot. More than many but less than others. I’ve just gotten used to that and feel terrible on days I don’t do something. But my excercise is completely selish–I want to look good and feel good–and here’s the key, I am lucky enough to be healthy enough to be able to run, bike and swim. Inspiration to me is the athlete who lost his leg and still runs or rides. The body part I lost has no effect on what I can do with my body( now of course, if I started breast feeding at this point–yes you could call me inspirational!)
There have been those I know I have inspired to start running or biking just by my writing about how much I love it. This is wonderful–if that’s the case then yes, call me ‘inspirational’– better yet all me ‘motivational’. Because to be a true inspiration you must motivate someone to do something. It makes me very happy when I know that I have encouraged someone to get out there and run. It’s the fastest easiest way to slim down and get healthy. But I am not inspirational for doing races or triathlons. I do these things because I like to stay in shape. The true inspiration here is my friend Julie who makes me sign up for these races and then encourages me to compete.
So this is a lot of words to tell you that it is each and every one of you in my life that actually ‘inspires’ me. And I am much more comfortable talking about your inspirational qualities than my own. With your words of encouragement, and your friendships, and even those I have never met, who tell me that they like my writing. I am inspired every day by strangers and friends alike. I am inspired by the woman I met who bought a necklace for her 17 year old niece, the one she raised since the girl was 3 when her father died of cancer. I am inspired by my friends who struggle every day to raise their kids alone, or hold their families together in times of crisis. Inspired by the woman who must visit her husband in the nursing home everyday and watch the light slip from his eyes. Inspired by friends who go out of their way to make me feel happy when they are not. I am inspired daily by my children who surprise me constantly with their love and loyalty. I am inspired by my sisters who support me in every decision I make and by my brother who rages against demons and fights hard enough to ensure he meets another sunrise.
I could go on, and I probably have gone on far too long. But thank you for letting me ramble because as I come to the end of this diatribe, what I’ve discovered is this: Each of us has the ability to inspire someone else, just by being thoughtful and kind, or by facing every day with a smile, and I for one should not feel bad about being called ‘inspirational’ as I hope you are all not bothered when I call you the same.
No anger whatsoever, you kick-ass (you said you liked that moniker) gal! How totally cool that those of us who have not had to battle cancer get a moment of honest “inside” look at the frustration of being called “inspirational”. Cliche-and-platitude-busting is a hugely helpful thing for those of us on the outside who have loved ones with cancer. When you have the energy to do that, it is a service for those who don’t have the energy to protest, but are feeling that frustration all the same. And it is a service to those of us who otherwise wouldn’t “get it” and might continue saying something that hurts. So, thanks!!
Thanks Valerie– for inspiring me to be kick-ass 🙂
Fran, I think for those like yourself that are “inspirational “they never know that they are, but for those of us on the outside looking in it is truly an amazing thing to watch.