When I was told I have stage 3 breast cancer this past December, I decided to make my diagnosis and treatment public. I am, after all, a public servant and I have spent most of the past 20 years working in the public sphere. It was my hope that discussing my cancer would encourage, educate, and help others. What I didn’t expect is that others would encourage, educate, and help me.
As a member of the Montgomery County Commission, I am no stranger to speaking with the news media. However, it was a new experience telling them about my health issues. My first interviews came Dec. 29, after a commission meeting. Right after Christmas, the video frame even included a Christmas tree in the background.
I talked about my diagnosis and treatment plan through a haze of fear and uncertainty from the shock of my diagnosis. I felt like none of the words I spoke could be real. At 42, I could not be talking about my cancer; it simply could not be happening.
Only 12 days before my family and I were preparing for Christmas. My husband and I have four children – ages 6 to 16 – and we were busy with baking, wrapping, and decorating, unaware of the coming trial. We enjoyed the everyday pleasures of family and friends. We had no expectations of biopsies and body scans.
Everything changed, though, when I discovered a lump in my right breast. I knew immediately something was very wrong and spent an agonizing weekend before I could see a doctor. The tests were positive, and suddenly I found myself in front of a camera saying, “I have cancer.”
I consider myself a public servant, not a politician. Politics is a tough, oftentimes ugly business that can mire us in negativity. Politics can be filled with trickery, deception, and distrust while a public servant puts the needs of their constituents above their own and doesn’t seek personal advancement at the expense of the whole.
Being a woman in politics adds another dimension to the challenge. I’m the first woman on the Montgomery County Commission in more than 14 years. Politics is a man’s game and has the tendency to be tough on women. Ironically, women in politics have a tendency to be tough on other women in politics and as women, we are typically our own toughest critics. We are piled on at every turn. The past few months, though, I found that in the toughest times, it’s the women in my life who rally around and offer support.
Almost immediately after those first interviews aired friends and strangers alike contacted me. I received telephone calls, letters, and emails that overwhelmed me with their encouragement and hope. Suddenly none of us were Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, public school or private school, stay-at-home or working moms. We were defined not by the issues that divide us, but by our humanity. That humanity helped me through my darkest hours.
An army of women at the ready gathered to help me any way necessary. They researched for me, sat with me at medical appointments, brought meals for my family, ran errands when I was too sick to leave the house. Those women drove my kids to school, took them out to eat, and let them play at their homes when I was too weak to take care of them. Those women prayed over me, spoke words of truth to me, and encouraged me.
We should cling to that model of love and support, and move out of the valley onto the mountaintop. When we get to know someone in a personal way, when we stand with them in the tough times, then when the disagreements come in the public sphere we can disagree with respect and understanding.
When my course of treatment is over, my health is restored, and I am not consumed with chemotherapy but with public service, I will not forget the support I received in the valley. When once again issues are being debated, frustrations are high, disagreements are public I will cling to the experience of sympathy, patience, and love I had in the valley. I will no longer sweat the small stuff. I will appreciate people — not processes, politics, or platitudes — but people. I will honor my womanhood by being tough, wise, and compassionate.
Woman, how divine your mission,
Here upon our natal sod;
Keep on, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
Are from mother-love impearled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.