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On Bravery and Strength

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

By Alissa Butterfass

There are two words I often hear in connection with living with my CHD, and more recently, when I had uterine cancer last year: “Brave” and “Strong.” I know my friends and family intend these words as compliments and as a way to encourage me when facing a challenging situation. But, I must admit, they make me cringe.

I don’t think of myself as particularly brave or strong. When I think of someone who is brave, I think of a person who chooses to do something scary or risky—like the firefighter who has chosen, either as a professional or a volunteer, to rush into the blaze from which most of us would rush away.

So, when I was diagnosed with cancer last year and was told I was brave for undergoing the prescribed surgery, it made me uncomfortable. Where was the bravery? What other choice did I have?

Similarly, when people say I am a strong person for living as I have with my congenital heart defect and its related issues I don’t know how to respond. Am I strong? Or am I merely doing what needs to be done—taking a stress test, wearing a 24-hour Holter monitor, having a catheterization—to remain healthy and alive? Would anyone else facing these same health issues do any differently?

This is not to say that I am not proud of how I have handled things. Throughout the years I have faced fears and overcome them. I remember watching a TV movie back in 1989 when I was in high school (yes, I am dating myself) about Ryan White, the young boy who had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. There was a scene in which Ryan walks around the hospital with his IV pole. For some reason that freaked me out; I could not imagine walking around with a needle in my arm, attaching me to this large pole.

Yet later that month, I was hospitalized for three weeks after an episode of supraventricular tachycardia and found myself wandering the hospital halls with my own IV pole—doing exactly what just days earlier I had feared. A small victory.

Yes, I have learned to handle needles like a champ. I have learned to set my own limits and know when I can or cannot participate in a particular activity, regardless of whether or not I truly wanted to join in. I have walked into operating rooms. I have signed my rights away moments before going under general anesthesia. And, I have kept my humor in tact in even the most stressful situations.

I have also broken down in tears. Yelled in frustration. Picked my nails when I was anxious and stayed up all hours consumed with worry.

In other words, I think I have behaved just as anyone else would. So while I appreciate people’s well-meaning words, I don’t feel like I can take credit for being brave or strong. I can only do my best to get through what needs to be done so I can be healthy and live life as fully as possible.

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The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.

The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.

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