Last week, I gained a new understanding about my life. About who I am; today.
CancerCon has been an identity-forming and soul-filling place for me. Over the past 6 years, it has allowed me to live in the triumphs and the tragedies that are cancer. Most profoundly, it has brought me closer to humanity.
What about that experience last week makes me say that Brene Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both right?
I spent the first 25 years of my life admiring Arnold Schwarzenegger and since then, admiring Brene Brown. But only now, only just this past week, have I begun accepting they are both parts of who I am today.
Taking a Look at the Bigger Picture
When I was 10 years old, I remember sitting on the floor with my dad’s old school weightlifting magazines. Joe Weider, Lou Ferrigno, and, of course, Arnold amazed me. It was the mental, just as much as the physical, aspects of bodybuilding that enraptured me.
Bodybuilding captured my imagination and my dedication so much, that fifteen years later, I would be on stage receiving the New York State Natural Light Heavyweight title.
Bodybuilding is perfectly superficial. You are “judged” on how you look. In bodybuilding, no one considers how connected and open to your feelings you are. I can imagine the judges deliberating… “Dave Fuehrer looked ripped up there. But I could tell there was something in his childhood that he hasn’t come to terms with…”.
There is both good and bad in the pursuits of bodybuilding (as with almost everything in life). Bodybuilding taught me to push through the pain. It taught me to tolerate more than my body told me I could. Bodybuilding strengthened my mettle.
When I was diagnosed with cancer at 25 and then received a second, primary diagnosis at 30, having the ability to push through pain served me well. I was grateful to have the lessons bodybuilding afforded me through both of those experiences.
Using Lessons Learned
We lost my father to cancer the year I turned 35. My bodybuilding prowess was now powerless. Losing my dad completely and fully overwhelmed me. It also forced every emotion (I had spent my life burying) to the surface. In looking back, I felt like an infant without words. I needed a new language, a new form of expression. Brene Brown became that role model. I have my phone in front of me now, staring at a post on Brene’s Instagram feed. “It’s clear that the days of engineering smallness and playing it safe to avoid criticism are over.” Powerfully said, Brene. Thank you.
Brene helped me find my voice, find new courage and, for the first time, embrace vulnerability to enter the arena of living. Her research and her example have been a big part of how I turned pain into purpose (along with the support and inspiration from so many remarkable people in my life).
But like I stated earlier, there is both good AND bad in almost everything in life. Pursuing a life of emotional depth and courage-in-vulnerability had made me feel shameful for how superficial I used to be. When vulnerability became my guiding light through cancer… I was filled with shame for having been that superficial before. I’ve spent the past few years on an apology tour and harboring regret for how much of my identity was based on superficiality. But, this past week brought a new acceptance. I am me today because of every part of who I’ve been.
Turning the Page on the Old Me
On Saturday at CancerCon, my friend David Richman shared part of his new book with me. My eyes lasered in on his words, “my experience has shown that cancer usually crashes into one’s life with a sort of primitive, metal-to-flesh force, and people don’t often immediately — if ever — attempt to come to terms with the vast array of emotional residuum.” Wow! Is that ever in the arena and profound?
Brene Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both identifiers of huge chunks of my identity-searching AND they are both important parts of who I am now.
We have to forgive ourselves for the things we’ve done in our past. They were done at different times and under different circumstances.
It’s a Part of Me
Together, Brene and Arnold have taught me that there are times to fight with everything we have. And, there are equally important moments to surrender; to allow things that are bigger, stronger, or more primal than our need for control. It’s so coincidental that my friend and cancer poet Ellis, would use those exact same words about living life and being human with me now. There are no coincidences, my friends.
Personal triumph means finding a mix of qualities and the blend of experiences that are right for each of us. And whatever that amalgamation is for you, that is right.
I’m having fun exploring my humanity. Sometimes it’s pretty. Sometimes it’s pure chaos. But the further we are from the “norm” in some aspect of who we are, the more important it is to be true to it.
Have fun exploring your humanity. I’ll be there cheering and supporting you in whatever form or in any expression that is… because that is the real you.
A final thought before we part, one of my mentors, Jennifer Sertl said to me “you’re not who you are in spite of where you’ve been. You are who you are because of where you’ve been”. Those words encourage me in each new step I take in this arena we find ourselves. Thank you.