Knowing What Your Rope Is

Knowing What Your Rope Is

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Knowing What Your Rope Is

When you get to the end of your rope—tie a knot in it and hang on.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Shortly after learning I had a rare kind of breast cancer that would require a year of aggressive treatments, I decided to cut back on some of my activities.

I stopped by my son’s classroom to explain to his teacher why I would no longer be coming to help every Monday morning. When I became upset as I told her about my diagnosis and the long months of treatment that lay ahead, she took my hands, held them tightly and told me this story about her friend, Ann.

One summer, Ann decided to go river rafting. Everyone who signed up for the trip had to learn the basic procedures and safety measures. As the instructor outlined the dangers, Ann became scared. What if her raft capsized or was dashed against the rocks? What if she were thrown into the rapidly churning water and carried downstream before anyone could rescue her?

The instructor had one answer to all of Ann’s anxious questions: “There is a rope that is attached to the perimeter of the raft. Whatever happens, hold on to that rope. Never let go. Just hold on.” And do you know what? An unexpected storm came up, and Ann’s raft did capsize, but she remembered her instructor’s words. She held on to that rope, and she survived.

I stared at my friend, wondering what this had to do with me. “Know what your rope is, Myra,” she counseled. “And hold on—to whatever it is. Through whatever happens, just keep holding on.”

She gave me a hug and returned to her classroom, leaving me to ponder her words. What was my rope? What would I hold on to in the days ahead? What would help me survive my perilous journey through surgery? It didn’t take me long to find the answer. My rope would be the love of my family and friends, which I knew would support me through whatever lay ahead.

As my treatment progressed, that rope was often at hand. It was there during my chemotherapy when my husband said, “Lean on me. I’ll be here to give you strength. If you can’t go on, I’ll carry you until you’re strong enough to continue on your own.”

It was there the day of my surgery when a dear friend hung a silk carp, the Japanese symbol of courage, in my hospital room. It was there on Mother’s Day when, unsure of what lay ahead, my daughter gave me an opal, the symbol of hope. And it was there one night after I had lost my hair, when I found fifty cents under my pillow with a note from the “hair fairy.”

There were times during the year when I didn’t get along with the people whose closeness and support I so desperately needed. I argued with my children about their refusal to attend a support group for families dealing with cancer. I fought with my husband over the handling of certain household matters.

In the past, I had been able to handle disagreements such as these easily, but at this particular time, I couldn’t tolerate the feelings of loneliness and isolation that followed arguments. On these occasions, it felt as though the rope was slipping out of my hands, and I feared the dark waters would engulf me. These were the most frightening days of all because I knew I couldn’t make it through a year of treatment alone. The love and laughter of my family and friends were just as essential to my survival as the chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

I discovered that Aristotle was right when he said, “Friendship is a thing most necessary to life, since without friends, no one would choose to live, though possessed of all other advantages.”

And so throughout the entire year, I held on. I held on when it appeared as though my tumor wasn’t shrinking as it was supposed to in response to the chemotherapy. I held on when a bone scan revealed a dark spot that looked suspiciously like bone cancer on a rib. I held on as though my life depended on it, because it did.

I survived my journey. My raft, although battered by storms and raging currents, is still afloat. I often hear my friend’s words echoing in my mind: “Know what your rope is, Myra.” I do, and I’m still holding on.

Myra Shostak

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