"The greatest test of courage on the earth is to bear defeat without losing heart." - R. G. Ingersoll
I read this quote last week on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/tamow) and knew I wanted to blog about it though couldn't decide on how to steer this post. This morning I sadly realized how critical it is for us to have courage. I am beginning to think that it might be the most vital skill we can develop and cultivate.
My mom let me know that my Great Aunt Lorraine passed away this morning. In her mid-80's, she lived a largely healthy and incredible happy life, one that my grandmother would define as "good, clean living". Honest, hard working, and loving, my Aunt Lorraine was thoughtful and generous, never forgetting a birthday or anniversary. I will miss her. She went through several bouts of cancer and chemotherapy eventually got the best of her.
She passed away from a from condition called MDS, a chemotherapy-induced form of leukemia. Chemotherapy is a poison, and the hope is that in targeted doses it will kill the cancer before killing the person being treated. Chemotherapy gave my Aunt Lorraine extra years that she would not have had otherwise, though I always find it discouraging to hear that science has failed us in some way. When she was first diagnosed, I was angry with her doctors. No wonder some people refuse treatment all together. Who wants those toxic substances floating around their bodies to cause unspeakable pain and suffering later on?
The art of medicine, and those who seek treatment through it, are engaging in a constantly morphing, emerging field. When someone is lost because science couldn't save them, there is cause to feel defeated and disappointed by doctors, the very heroes who are supposed to literally save us. The truth is that we can't give up on medicine, on the process of trial and error, on the development of new processes and treatments. Without taking these risks, advancement isn't possible. And advancements let my family have my Aunt Lorraine for as long as we did, in relatively good health. She had great courage to continue fighting cancer and she never lost heart. Her doctors pushed forward doing the best they could to give her more time. They had great courage, too.
My Aunt Lorraine's passing is also a reminder that our time here is short and precious. The times we're living in are testing us to the nth degree, and many are walking around disillusioned and disappointed, in themselves, in the failings of their government and financial system, in their companies. I understand that feeling, and on occasion I share it.
Many times in our lives, we will have to bear defeat, learn from it, get up, and keep going. With hope of better days, it's a little easier to keep going. As I've said before, hope isn't a strategy for success. It's a tool to make the journey easier, and it makes courage more attainable. My Aunt Lorraine had hope that the chemotherapy treatments she endured would help her live longer. And she was right. I am inspired by her ability to look defeat in the eye and hang on to her heart, her family. We must all do the same - the alternative is not an option if we intend to live as well and as long as she did.