There are more than 7 million women cancer survivors in the United States. This past weekend I had the privilege of being among more than 1200 of them, gathered for the first-ever all women, all cancers, “SurvivorVILLE.” Participants came from 49 states and four foreign countries for the first annual National Women’s Survivors Convention in Music City – Nashville, Tennessee.
Navigating The Gaylord Opryland Resort for this convention was like making my way around the world’s largest cruise ship. On final day of the 3 ½ day convention, I was fairly confident I could find my way from my room to the convention center to the restaurants – at least until I decided to indulge in the pool before departure. That turned into another extended exploration!
As I sprinted through the hallways each day, trying to make my way to the next interview, co-presentation, book signing, and more, I pushed aside mental and physical fatigue. I thought about how much I miss my “angelic sheroes” Bobbie Jo Kahakauwila and Taira Baughman — and the need to continue the fight against this insidious disease. Quite frankly, I felt a bit wimpy in my “healthy” body; my swimming regime wasn’t providing the stamina I expected. Then, upon check-out the steward informed me that he averages 10-15 miles per day, walking throughout the hotel. So, perhaps my feeling as though I was in marathon-training wasn’t amiss after all.
As I went the distance on the final morning, I had an epiphany. My heart swelled for the “cancer winners” among me. They had truly run the distance, made their way through meandering and confusing pathways, with often unclear beginning, middle and end markers. They had sprinted their way through exhaustion that was magnified by worry, fear, confusion, frustration, and sadness. Recurrence isn’t merely a fear in their families’ lives; for many it’s a reality. During the Team Martina 2nd birthday celebration highlighting “My 2nd Act” essays, my best friend and survivor, Vicki Kennedy sat next to Cheri Kirby a 27-year five-time survivor of three different types of cancer – truly a picture of hope! And still, they continue fighting their way through, past the fear of recurrence, and into that place of restored wellness.
Every woman arrived at the Opryland Resort with her own unique story of survivorship. I have been afforded a window into life’s most courageous families in writing about difficult journeys. Participating in this survivors’ convention was like watching God pour light into that window. While the ripple effects of cancer were evident – baldness, wigs, fragility, missing limbs — there was a vibe that overrode the losses among us. These women were ready to hear one another’s stories; ready to be empowered by one another’s presence and ready to soak in all SurvivorVILLE had to offer. Clearly, cancer was not going to be the dominant theme!
The early morning 5K was more than a sprint for my best friend, Vicki Kennedy and her childhood BFF, Vickie. It was symbolic of the race they didn’t choose, yet won against breast cancer. Side-by-side they endured one another’s battle, alternating the hat of patient and caregiver. The round-table “survivors circle” discussion alongside my co-host Rob, poured inspiration into our hearts and that of our listeners on Because Hope Matters Radio. To say the five participants went on with their lives would be an understatement. They not only went on, they set a course to magnify hope in other survivors’ lives. Sitting down with Joanna Montgomery, Jill Feldman, Ruth Bachman, Teri Powell, and Jera Williams — alongside my friend & radio co-host Rob Harris — provided living proof that we can’t always choose “what” we go through but we can always choose “how” we go through it.
Throughout the convention, I marveled at Rob’s abiding love and assistance to his wheelchair-bound wife, Cindy. The Team Martina birthday/survivor party backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, with Martina McBride, shone a much deserved spotlight on survivors who had run the distance. Two days post-convention, I’m beginning to feel recharged after swimming, sleeping and resting in the love of my family. My prayers are wrapped around those 1200 survivors, and the amazing dynamic-duo, Judy Pearson and Karen Shayne, who created the 1st SurvivorVILLE experience, and have already begun planning for 2014. No one should go it alone — it takes team effort. Let’s keep up the sprint, never give up the fight, and keep on loving them through it!
**COMING SOON to Because Hope Matters Radio and YouTube: interviews with speakers Shannon Miller & Scott Hamilton plus video chat with Team Martina’s Captain Sheila Jones and Martina McBride’s fan relations manager, Tracy Weaver.**
Click here to watch Martina McBride singing “Happy Birthday” to Team Martina backstage in Studio A. 🙂