“My Voice” by Beth Silverman

Beth Silverman - 'Survivor'

I’ve been surviving ever since I was a little girl, although I really never put a name on what I was doing. Life didn’t always deal me a fair hand of cards, but at an early age I knew I only played to win, regardless of what was at stake. My parents divorced when I was little, and my stepfather who I loved dearly, passed away after being in my life for only ten short years. Even though there was a lack of male guidance in my life, I felt I was always playing in a man’s world. And to win the game, I had to be the best, even if it meant sacrificing the things that most young women dream of– marriage and children, the family life we see in glossy magazines and fairy tales. I was the first female saxophonist accepted to study at a world renowned conservatory, and I thought I was a tough ‘New Yawka’. What could those boys possibly have on me??? I rose to the top, steadfast and focused on my goals. I recorded three CD’s and performed all over the country and at 21 was ready for life’s next challenge: Corporate America. Most girls my age were thinking about grad school, or weddings, and I was thinking about the glass ceiling, and where I could begin to crack it. I often used the word sacrifice when I described my life. Work hard, play hard. Sacrifice now, reap the rewards later.  At 25, I sat on my rooftop deck overlooking the city skyline, and thought to myself, life will never be this fun again. Live it up, and soak it all in. I scoffed at my girlfriends who were married and pregnant. I was sexy. I had a great body, and a great rotation of eligible bachelors blowing up my cell phone. I was on top of the world, and paced my life in NY minutes: fast, furious, aggressive. In a million years, I never would have thought that the universe was about to show me what fast, furious, and aggressive really looked like. I was 26, and the picture of health. You all know how that story goes. No family history, given the all clear at the gynecologist 6 weeks earlier, but there it was, introducing itself to me as I washed my body in the shower. This marble sized lump in my breast, that was just as aggressive as I was. Instead of planning my 27th birthday party I was scheduling scans and mastectomies. I hit a brick wall, as the world continued to move around me.

Spare me your Survivor magnets,  ribbons, and T-shirts, and all the other PINK junk that the “popular cancer that gets its own month” comes with. I don’t need a T-shirt or a pin. I wear survivor in the 26 inch scar the crosses my abdomen from hip to hip. I lived, and breathed “you are a survivor from the day you are diagnosed” to help me move from one day to the next. I spoke survivor, as I counseled thousands of young women diagnosed with breast cancer as I told my story across the world, and started an organization that helped women with breast reconstruction in 75 countries. I survived the funerals of 29 friends in four years. I talked about what being a Survivor meant to me in countless speeches, interviews, and written works. And yet here I stand, about to reach the five year mark. That cancer milestone that all of us survivors know means nothing in the real world. They told me I had a 52% chance of surviving disease free for five years. And even then, I knew it was 100%. So now I’m here. I’ve arrived. Where’s my red carpet?

Cancer stole so much—my breasts, my hair, my boyfriend, my career, my finances, my security, and 29 of my friends. And now, as I approach five years, I’ve taken it most of it back. Score: Beth = 1, Cancer = 0. Who knows why I survived? But I sure as shit won’t waste a minute thinking about that. I got good advice from a friend who is now an angel watching over me. She said, “Beth, you can spend the rest of your life worrying that the cancer will come back, and if it never does, you wasted your life. OR, you can spend the rest of your life worrying that the cancer will come back, and if it does, you still wasted your life.”

Moral of the story. Get out there and live. Fake it till you make it. If you don’t feel like a “survivor” don’t sweat it. There’s no handbook for this shit. You wake up every day, and do the best you can with what you’ve got. And no one can take that from you. I have the same scary days as the next person, but I pull up my big girl panties, and press on. I live every day with passion and purpose. I still work hard and play hard, but I love hard and laugh hard too. When people tell you the daily battle within your brain really does get easier in time, they aren’t lying. I promise you it does, and I’ll be here standing at the finish line waiting for all of you, holding the sign that says, “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?” I leave you with my favorite quote from Orisen Swett Marden, “There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic as powerful as expectation of something better tomorrow.”