By Heather Bonynge
About two years after completing my treatments for cervical cancer, I began meeting new people or running into old acquaintances who didn’t know about my life with, during, or since cancer. Despite not having been around for this part of my life, somehow cancer always managed to find a way to creep into our conversations.
I think I’m fairly safe in saying that for many of us who are survivors, we have all had to face a somewhat awkward situation at one point or another when old friends ask us, “So what’s new with your life? What have you been up to for the past five years?”
For me, it often comes up when discussing children and my daughter. This topic would then inevitably lead people to ask the question, “When are you and your husband going to have more children?” Queue the moment of internal panic; your armpits get sweaty, your mouth gets dry, and you wonder, “What is the best way to answer this? How much do I tell them? Do I breeze past this? Do I have time to get into this here, now? How do I handle this?”
I tried all of these scenarios. I sometimes told people very little, I more often told them a whole lot, and my favourite was giving back a little awkwardness by responding, “We are working on it all the time. In fact, we just did last night!” Joking aside, I started to realize that the topic of cancer could not be avoided in any of my relationships.
I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. What I have learned is that through bringing cancer to the forefront in my relationships and my conversations with people and by sharing my story, I have begun to not only empower myself, but my story is empowering the people I connect with as well. For the longest time I was afraid that opening up the subject with people would make me susceptible to their pity, and that was definitely not the connection I wanted to make. Sharing my journey does make me somewhat vulnerable, but it is honest, and by opening myself up to others I have gotten the opportunity to allow so many wonderful relationships and connections into my life that I may never have experienced otherwise.
What I have also learned with these new relationships is how grateful and truly blessed I am for the people who have been the permanent fixtures in my journey, my constants. They are always there no matter what the topic: cancer, fertility, or if I just want to talk about the great movie I watched last night. Without taking vows (except for my husband), they have truly been through better and through worse (my worse is pretty ugly, too). I have built genuinely authentic relationships with them, and as a result, I now strive to bring that same authenticity to the surface with everyone else.
At the Survivor Conference this year, we spoke about legacy, and what it meant to us. A number of us mentioned that is not what we want to leave behind, but rather what we are putting out into the world while we are still here living. I remember this every time I am trying to navigate any of my relationships, new and old.
We may not always have the power to control what happens around us, the different paths our lives take, or the people who come into our lives as a result, but we do all have the power though to control what we put into the world. My legacy or mission statement as I’ve made it is:
Love. Connection. Life.
It’s not going to be the same for all of us, and it shouldn’t be; that would make things really boring. Just know that every single one of us has the power to influence others and our relationships, and this will have a huge influence on the life you live as well. Live the life you love.
Live life on purpose,
Some of Heather’s “constants,” her best friends, husband, and daughter!