On July 6th I went in for my oncology check up. I saw a physician’s assistant instead of my doctor who was on vacation. All of my blood work came back good with the exception of my vitamin D level. So it was a pretty boring appointment and routine infusion. As part of my examination, the PA asked me several questions. She asked me if I was in any pain from the cancer itself. We had already discussed the aggravating side effects of the medication I am on for the cancer, but this was a different question. I told her I was not in pain from the cancer, and really never have been. She looked at me and said “you must be one tough cookie!” This got me thinking.

What exactly does it mean to be “tough?” Am I tough? I looked up the definition. It defined tough as “capable of great endurance; sturdy; hardy.” Now this can of course refer to some sort of inanimate object or material, but I am thinking in terms of people. What exactly makes a person tough?

Having cancer does require a certain degree of endurance. I continually endure numerous medical tests and procedures to determine the current status of cancer’s residency in my body. I endure multiple needle sticks while having blood drawn and getting infusions. A curse of having veins that are hard to locate. I endure the crappy side effects of medication that is necessary to control the disease. I endure the uncertainty of my health, my physical abilities, and of my future. I endure watching my family deal with my disease and all of the messy details that go along with it. Yet, despite the things I endure, I don’t think this makes me tough. There are too many others that endure a lot more.

Here are some examples of people I think are tough:

Hunter Treschle. Hunter lost his arm to a shark last month at just 16 years old. Just weeks after this horrific event, Hunter spoke of deciding that his life would go on and still be great, even without his arm. Now that’s tough!

Aron Ralston. Aron was trapped while rock climbing in Utah. In order to survive he had to amputate his own arm using a pocket knife. Even then he had to make his way through a canyon and rappel down a 65 ft. cliff in order to reach safety. So yeah, that guy is tough!

Malala Yousafzai. Malala was shot because she was attempting to become educated. Educating females in some countries is considered a crime. Malala recovered and became a human rights activist. Her story is widely known and her work continues. This, my friends, is tough.

Many other nameless and faceless people are pretty tough.

Holocaust  and other war survivors. People who were starved, beaten, tortured because of their beliefs and their faith.  Those people are tough.

Victims of natural disasters. It seems all too common that we hear of people who lose absolutely everything to a tornado, fire, hurricane, or flood. Yet, for every tragic story, there are many more stories of people who overcome their difficulties and move on. They become closer families, better neighbors, more appreciative of what they have. That’s pretty tough.

Single parents. I can honestly say that parenting is the hardest job in the world. Raising children without the support of a partner and making decisions that effect the lives of  children all by yourself. That’s incredibly tough.

I could go on and on with examples of people in various walks of life who have shown to be “capable of great endurance.” There are so many I could probably fill books with examples, not just a simple blog post. Maybe some people do consider me to be tough. In some ways, maybe I am. But I have to say that I don’t personally consider my capability to endure to be anything in comparison to what others go through. I know it’s not a competition, but really, I truly couldn’t imagine surviving what I have seen others survive.

I think we all have to play the cards we are dealt in life. We all have to endure at various points in our lives. I can think of very few people who haven’t had to endure circumstances that they do not choose. Our circumstances are a combination of decisions, fate, and luck. There is simply too much that we can’t control. It reminds me of quotes by Marvin J. Ashton….




Perhaps the real definition of “tough” is someone who understands these concepts, embraces them, and uses them when the circumstances call for it. And maybe we as humans are all tough or can learn to be tough. We just don’t know how tough we are until we have no other choice.




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4 Responses to Tough

  1. Love you, Mom says:

    Great post, honey. Love you, Mom

  2. Robin says:

    Wow! That literally brought me to tears….and that is saying something! Thank you for writing this Kay!

  3. Janene Oliphant says:

    Just starting reading your story and already, you strike me as one amazing lady! I just wanted to say that by talking about your “cancer dance”, you are touching others in an important way. Stay strong. Janene O.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

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