Learning lessons of bad-assery from the best to ever do it.
2016 has been particularly aggressive with collecting brave souls that we've loved and supported. Unexpected deaths of celebrities and personal friends/family members have shaken many of us deeply and given us another opportunity to examine our mortality and study our own lives. Are we really following our passions and our dreams? Are we living our lives in an honorable fashion? Are we doing enough...?
Two larger-than-life celebrities passed away this year and though months have gone by, the loss of their presence and their wisdom is still very palpable. Muhammad Ali has been the best boxer I could name for my entire life. Even as I watched Parkinson's disease silence him and age him in ways that surprised me, he still was The Greatest. He will always be that. Because of how he lived his life before the disease and then afterward too.
Prince Rogers Nelson, a tiny man with a huge presence both on stage and off... was the soundtrack of my teenage years and into my young adulthood. I became a fan with Purple Rain and I never stopped being a fan. He was unapologetic in his creativity and in the way that he stood up for himself and for others. He was always associated with the color of royalty, purple, and he always stood out as a king.
I wept for their deaths as though I knew them personally. Fortunately, both men walked so securely in their purpose and left behind so many pebbles of examples, I can still draw strength from them to apply to my life as a breast cancer survivor.
A few things about their lives have been anchoring my spirit this year and have given me a renewed focus on being a better version of Nicole.
The bad-assery lessons I learned
- Be unapologetic about your blackness. Blackness is not a burden. It does not require or demand apology for existing. You are great in the skin God gave you, just as He made you. Embrace it. If people have a problem with it, that's for them to work out... your job is to be who God called you to be. Without apology. The world will work hard to attempt to diminish your blackness because it may not mirror what others see or understand. That's too bad. Doesn't stop you from being great.
- Respect your abilities and your own hustle enough to walk away from negative situations with your head held high. For two distinctly different reasons both men decided to take very public stances against the "powers" that were making them famous. But what both men realized was that he "powers that be" did not hold the key to their greatness. That lay within them. When faced with a choice to walk the easy path and keep making money (while ignoring their own truth)... they chose to walk away and create a new path. One that resonated with how they viewed themselves and the world. When Muhammad Ali refused to serve in the draft for the Vietnam War, the machine did everything they could to crush him. They tried to say he was unpatriotic. They arrested him and stripped him of his titles. He fought back - all the way to the Supreme Court - and won. He stood tall on his principles and recognized that it was time to walk in his own principles. When you are centered in who you are and what your purpose is, negativity and fears can't break your spirit. Prince took a very public and unusual stand against his music label. After walking away and setting new standards for what he would accept in his career, he completely changed the game. The years where he was known as "the artist formerly known as Prince" were years where he boldly let the world know how unfair the music industry was to its artists. He chose to honor his own greatness and in the end taught all of us to stand up for what we feel is right and fair.
- You design your own life. Both men gambled by walking away from what was (at both times) the standard and acceptable course of actions. They took the chance on themselves and it paid off. But even if it had not, I believe that both men understood themselves enough to accept that they had to respect themselves and no price was worth giving that up. They designed their future based on their own talents and their own goals.
- There is more to being the best than just raw talent. You have to work hard and continuously work at your craft. Muhammad Ali worked out and stayed physically sharp as long as he was able to. He knew he had raw talent but that never stopped him from working to be at the top of his craft. Prince has written so much music that at his death he had published 39 albums. He has penned numerous songs for other artists, under his name and pseudonyms. And there's no telling how much music he simply created and kept in his vault. You have to keep working at your "thing".
- Encourage those behind you to be their best. Both men left behind huge legacies of helping young people and others to do their best and follow in their footsteps. It wasn't robbery for them to give back. Ever.
For me, each lesson in bad-assery that I gleaned from their lives is directly applicable to my own life as a survivor.
How I apply the bad-assery to my survivor life (and you can too)
- Being a black woman survivor is an asset, not a liability. I've been blogging about breast cancer since I was diagnosed in 2008. I have struggled for years with finding a balance between talking about the disease and inserting issues/concerns that relate to my race and this disease. I have feared appearing "too black" which I thought people would read as "too brash" or "not mainstream enough". But the truth is, I am a black woman survivor of breast cancer. And the reason that I am in this space at all is because when I was diagnosed I went to the internet to search for someone who looked like me and who had been through this and I couldn't find anyone. So I just started writing. Here I am 8 years later... still writing. To try to diminish my blackness when talking about the disease is a disservice to those who are out there looking for someone like me, someone like them. And it is a disservice to others who do not understand that every survivor's life is not the same. The disease affects black women differently. Sometimes the differences in our culture and specific lifestyle differences we may have are a hindrance to getting adequate treatment for the disease. Our history in this country with racism and a history of mistreatment because of race by the medical community plays a strong part in the hesitancy of some in the black community to embrace awareness programs and to be more proactive about breast health. My experience with breast cancer and being a single black woman is valuable.
- Embracing my own strengths and my own hustle is necessary. Today I am alive and surviving. Millions of us are out here figuring our way through life after the devastation of breast cancer. Just as each patient is unique and different and each cancer is different... navigating life after breast cancer will vary between survivors. However, we each have to learn how to tap into our own strength, just as we did when we were diagnosed and learn to how to hustle in this new life. How can you apply what you learned during your journey to your new normal? Can you educate others in your circle about the disease? Can you embrace the shifts necessary to learn to cope with the aftermath of survivorship? Embrace your strength, don't run from it. Find a way to be an inspiration to yourself. Find your hustle and your courage and fly after your dreams. There is no better time than now to embrace the gift of survivorship.
- It's my life to make it whatever it will be. I've been with my fiance for almost 4 years now. It is definitely enlightening to see your life through someone else's eyes. He trusts my abilities as a writer and a blogger. He values the input that I have as a breast cancer survivor. Where I have doubts, he's completely confident in my ability to shine. Taking a cue from the fact that he's learned a great deal from me (especially as breast cancer recently impacted his family with an unexpected loss), I am confident that I can continue to bring value to others and to craft the life that I want. I am the architect of this life. So what if I'm not the "typical" breast cancer blogger activist? (whatever that is... LOL!) As long as I am providing good value and great content, then I am okay. This new normal in my life... is whatever I want it to be. And your new normal is going to be whatever you design it to be. Have a dream? Write it down. Figure out a plan. Make it happen.
- My natural talent and empathy are good traits, but adjusting and perfecting my skills is still up to me. I meet so many survivors who ask me, "what do I do now?". They are afraid of life after breast cancer. And their fear is real. The fear of recurrence. Of losing your life. Of losing your family or friends. Of losing your job... they're all real fears and real consequences that happen to many survivors. What is also true is that you had talents and skills and desires before the diagnosis. You still have them, though you may have to work around some new restrictions like side effects of breast cancer that limit your mobility or chemobrain that has reduced your cognitive functions. Though challenged, that doesn't mean that your skills aren't still useful or necessary. It means that you have to work now to perfect the skills with your new challenges so that they are useful again. Make adjustments to bring out the best in you. For me, that looks like being more vocal about the limitations in mobility I have due to my lymphedema and asking for help without shame. And always carrying a notebook with me so that I can write down my thoughts as they occur before they disappear into the fog.
- As I've learned, I've helped others. I have learned through my experiences and trial and error. I have learned from other survivors. And I have learned a lot by staying current in my readings about the disease and being active on social media; interacting with other survivors. There is a tangible boost from interacting with other survivors. And there is a really great feeling that comes from assisting new survivors with understanding what is happening to them in their treatment. Being a breast cancer survivor can feel like being in a club. No one wants this membership, but there are benefits and responsibilities to being here. Joining a support group or volunteering at a cancer center can be a benefit to you and to other survivors. Don't hoard what you've learned, pass it on. Even as you struggle with your own uncertainty (and that is a given for us because recurrence happens and we must stay vigilant)... you have knowledge and experience that will help someone else's journey. Our current unfortunate truth is that every day more new diagnosis happen. Each of these new survivors could benefit from your experience.
Ali was the greatest... and Prince was the best.
Embrace your bad-assery... and set the world on fire. Just as Muhammad Ali and Prince Rogers Nelson did.
I thank them both for the examples of how to survive when the world doesn't create a clear path before you. Being unapologetic about your bad-assness is the boldest statement that you can make with your life. With whatever time you have left... stop apologizing for your existence and find a way to live your life to it's fullest extent. Throw on some Prince music and maybe watch a Muhammad Ali fight if you need some inspiration. They were two of the best and the world is forever better for their presence in it.
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Your favorite bad-ass breast cancer survivor.
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