I have wondered what consistutes a “strong person.” What characteristics do they have? Do they have some sort of intestinal fortitude that others don’t? Just sitting here, I can think of at least 7 people right off the top of my head that I consider or have considered strong that have made a significant impact on my life.
My dad was, and still is, my hero. Anyone who knows me will say I was the ultimate Daddy’s Girl. My dad worked two jobs when I was young so my mom could stay home. He went to school at night on the GI Bill. He worked is way into upper management without a Bachelor’s Degree. He was funny, smart, charismatic, selfless and the most loving man I’ve ever known. He always put my mom and me first. He even introduced me to my husband (after he tried to sell me to him, but that’s an entirely different story for another blog post). He was devoted to my oldest son and my youngest son grieves over the Paw-paw he never got to meet. My dad fought diabetes and congestive heart failure with a sense of strength and humor I find myself desperately trying to emulate. He fought the battles on his terms, not the diseases. I’ve often asked myself if my dad would approve of how I’m handling cancer and my mom always tells me yes. Daddy always told me that while we need to pick out battles, sometimes they pick us. When they do, you need to face them with all the ferocity you can muster. Actually that’s a paraphrase. Anyone who knew my dad knows he would never, ever use the word ferocity. He’d just say “Kick in the ass.”
My mom and great-grandma are like twins from separate generations. My great-grandma ruled the roost even from her room in a nursing home until shortly before she died. When she said jump, we’d just do it. She was a single mom, after the death of her first husband. She worked as a baker for Lunkenheimer in their employee cafeteria. Decades later, I was able to benefit from her gifts as a baker. She was never afraid of hard work. Well into her 70’s and possibly 80’s, she would sit on a window sill and wash windows – 2 or 3 stories off the ground. She was tenacious, stubborn, and fiercely devoted to her family. I know that’s where my mom learned it.
Mom is stubborn too, but in a good way. No matter how old I am, she’s still my mom and that was never more clear to me than when I underwent my hysterectomy in October. As many of you know, my mom spent every night with me in the hospital being a second set of ears, a sounding board and momma tiger when 2 stupid residents came in and made pronouncements about my health status without reading my chart first. This is where I’ve learned that there is nothing deeper than the strength of a mother protecting her child. I have had my fair share of advocating for my children and I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy, healthy and safe. I make sacrifices in my own life to homeschool them. My mom is an incredible example of the strength of a mom.
My friends Cathy and Lisa are two of the strongest women I know for a single reason – they beat the Beast. Cathy is a 5 year survivor of breast cancer and Lisa is a 2 year survivor of stage 3 ovarian cancer. Both women refuse to allow me to wallow in self-pity. They give me a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen and arms to hold me, but they refuse to allow me to believe that I will do anything but beat cancer and be a survivor. Even when I get news that’s not what I want to hear (like needing a 7th chemo treatment, just to be sure), they dig in their heels and send fighting strength my way. Cathy texts me after every doctor’s appointment, nearly every lab and never misses sending me positive thoughts the day before chemo and during my chemo treatment. Lisa always e-mails me after chemo to check in on me and does so periodically in the intervening time. She also posts the best things on my Facebook wall. We IM when we can. She is the only person I know who really gets ovarian cancer since she’s had it, along with the multitude of side effects. Both of these incredible women have taught me that I have to have a single minded focus “Kick Cancer’s butt and don’t look back!”
I have a profound respect for my mother-in-law, Elsa Giess. I embrace her as my “second mom” and am blessed to have her. Her family spent much of World War II staying ahead of the Nazi’s and then worked as tentant farmers after the war. She came to the US with her two older sisters and left everything she knew behind. She married my father-in-law, who was also an immigrant, and became and Army wife for several years. When they settled in Mansfield, she raised my sister-in-law and husband while doing the books for my father-in-law’s construction business. She returned to school and worked for years at School Specialty Products. In fact, she worked until she was 70! She lost her sister, Erika, to breast cancer in the 80’s. While I know she worries, she keeps on living life to the fullest. When I had my hysterectomy, she had scheduled a trip to New York with my sister-in-law and her nephews who were visiting from Germany. The day after she returned, she came to Cincinnati to welcome me home and help John take care of me. She has lived through so much and still faces life with an optimism and faith I wish I could match. While God knew what I needed in a husband, he also gave me another wonderful woman to call “Mom.”
I rarely mention my dad’s mom and she certainly wasn’t what I’d call strong, but my Grandma Streckfuss had a profound impact on my life. Married to an abusive spouse, she endured a great deal of physical, psychological and emotional pain as did my dad. My grandma and dad handled it in two different ways. My dad turned into a strong man who didn’t need to use violence, a fist, or evil words to make his point. My grandma was a loving woman who would do anything for me. Her only daughter died when my dad was young and since I was the first grandchild and a girl we shared a special bond. No matter how she felt, she would play with me. I loved her and knew she loved me. When she was diagnosed with colon cancer, I was 7. I didn’t get it. She died right after I turned 9. There is still a empty place in my heart for her. However, I do know that she is that small voice that keeps me fighting. She chose not to fight since it got her away from her abusive husband. I will always remember one of the last things she said to me on the phone, “Don’t let anyone keep you from being you.” Cancer, while it will always be a part of me know, will never define my identity.
Strength is many things. It is courage, emotional fortitude, a caring spirit, tenderness, a hug and an enduring legacy. When I think of strength, I think of these people who have modeled it for me. I only hope I can model it as well for others.