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  • Mary-Sue Cowell

Me - A New Definition

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

The question of, "Who am I?" has popped up in my life repeatedly but it wasn't until I came through 2 cancer diagnoses, 2 surgeries and treatment that I realized exactly how I had come to define myself. The more uncomfortable piece for me is that I don't want the definition I created for myself anymore I want a new one. I'm changing my script.

When somebody asks, "who are you?" We probably all think of the roles we fill in life. For example, I am a teacher, mother, wife, friend, sibling, daughter and the list goes on. However, when I dig deeper and look back over my life the highlight reel is filled with moments and experiences I have had. For me all of the moments that surface when asked, "Who are you?" are around loss. I have spent the last 20 plus years telling myself that I am a person of loss. I do not want to be that person anymore.

My mother passed away following her battle with cancer when I was 21. I was a motherless daughter. I believe in God and know my mother is in heaven serving a greater purpose however I'm not going to lie, it still stings as you mark dates, holidays and life experiences without this significant person to share them with. I have now lived more of my life without her physical presence than I have with. I still have a relationship with her; it is obviously just different. This should define and change a person some might say, and I don't disagree however some of the messages to myself I now realize are not serving me. This is where I had to dig deep because the life I was living prior to my mom's illness and death was that of a carefree young adult. The shift I made was to a responsible daughter and family member (not a bad thing but stay with me) because in difficult moments I go into autopilot and just do what has to get done to get through the situation. I often sacrifice my priorities and health to do this. My autopilot = survival mode. I come out on the other side of survival mode seemingly well. I do some personal growth work, pray and take time for myself and continue on because, "Hey shit happens, people die and in my world people die young. Fact of life."

Fast forward some years later I am married we are living in Calgary and after initially deciding not to have children we change our minds and try. We get pregnant and all is going well I am "older" but healthy and active so there is not reason for concern until there is reason for concern. We head into our ultrasound to find out the sex of the baby. Our baby had some abnormalities and ended up with spina bifida. We had some difficult decisions to make. We gave birth to our daughter, Rachel, at 21 weeks and she too is up in heaven serving her purpose (I believe she is in the arms of my mother).

During this same week my husband's paternal grandmother passes away and my aunt, who had become my mother figure in the year's following my mother's death dies suddenly of a heart attack. I am devastated. I retreat into survival mode, become anxious and withdrawn. I do some personal growth work, and take time for myself and continue on because, "Hey shit happens, people die. Fact of life."

My husband and I are blessed with another pregnancy and are able to carry her to term. Our labor and delivery do not go as planned, "shit happens." In the end what looked dire for my daughter and I has turned out to be just fine. We made it through with our angels watching over us.

Just over one year ago I am diagnosed with tongue cancer. "Shit happens. People die but I am not ready to go." I have surgery to remove the cancer and a portion of my tongue is replaced with tissue from my calf along with the removal of 23 lymph nodes. Merry Christmas 2017. Follow up sounds good; surgeon & oncologist are happy all of the lymph nodes are benign. We go back to planning the rest of our lives together. Four months later it has returned and appears to be still isolated to my tongue but I shift modes again, "shit happens," and I enter survival mode. I undergo surgery in May of 2018 and begin Chemotherapy and Radiation in June. "Shit happens." I think about words like legacy, planning, death, the motherless daughter cancer made me and how I do not want that for my daughter.

As I continue to recover from surgery and treatment (I am cancer free) and do what I do after loss (personal growth, prayer and take time for me) I reflect more and more on this repeated message I created for myself. "I am a person of loss." "People die." "Shit happens." I am digging deeper and realizing these words do not have to define me just as the roles or hats we wear in life do not solely make us who we are. These events that include loss are a part of who I am but they do not have to be all of who I am. Do I think that life does not have difficult situations and events, hell no! Shit is still going to happen, People do die, but most people today live long and fulfilled lives. Is there illness and disease, yes, but we get to choose how we react and live with illness and or disease if they come. Science and medicine (both western and eastern) have options to support us when these things arise. Above all I have learned from all of these "losses" that I am NOT a person of loss; I AM A FIGHTER, A WARRIOR. I get to choose how I see events unfold in my life, the control is mine. The words we speak to ourselves are powerful and we need to speak, especially to ourselves, the truth. If and or when I get knocked down by circumstance and life because "shit happens" I do not have to allow that "shit" to define me. My reaction to life defines me and I will always choose to rise up and continue Standing STRONG.

Some of the personal growth pieces that have led me here are the love and support of family and friends. The support of psychologists. I also participate in achievement club and completed my first transformation weekend with

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