Courage in Stories

Posted on: March 20th, 2009 by

Kudos to a recent Oprah show, which profiled four celebrities: Fran Dresher, Scott Hamilton, Magic Johnson, and Montel Williams — each who are or have been grappling with serious medical conditions.

What struck me was these individuals’ candor and willingness to tell their stories. And as they shared their experiences, their faces of celebrity faded, only to be replaced with the face of humanity, gratitude, and humility. I watched, transfixed, and was really shocked at Scott Hamilton’s revelation that he had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He expressed his gratitude for being able to be on this Earth for as long as he has.

In his Fairfield Citizen article, “In the suburbs: Winning the battle at all costs,” Steve Gaynes eloquently describes this particular show. (See the link at the end of this blog.) Like Gaynes, I found Dresher’s words inspiring: “‘Sometimes the best gifts come in the ugliest packages.'”

During my fight against breast cancer, I bore witness to the ugliness of illness. During hours in chemotherapy, I had a lot of time to think and reflect about my life. I was just focused on doing all I could to fight for my life. Cancer survivors would tell me that I might not feel this way now, but one day I might consider this illness a gift.

I was, like, “huh”?

So when hearing the celebrities’ stories on Oprah, I realized that these individuals are speaking from a perspective different than one who is just diagnosed. Their points of view only come after years of reflection about their plights.

Eight years after my diagnosis, I, too, now see that cancer was, indeed, a gift — a gift I didn’t want in the first place — but a gift nonetheless.

Because until I realized what it was really like to be ill, I took life for granted. I now do my best to appreciate each day and know how precious the world and my loved ones are to me. I still throw pity parties and still have to deal with the medical aftermath of my battle.

But I consider myself blessed, humbled, and very human.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris College in the Chicago area. She can be contacted at and

This blog posting is an excerpt from my book in progress, Calling the Shots: Coaching Yourself Through the Medical System. Stay in loop for when it comes out. Subscribe to the blog in upper righthand corner.

2 Responses to Courage in Stories

  1. Jeannie had this to say about that:

    It’s so true about cancer being “a gift. One you don’t want, but nonetheless, a gift.” (Yes, my English teaching friend, I know this was probably not accurately quoted, but I’m too lazy to scroll up and fact check.

    Anyway, I feel the same way about the sexual abuse I endured and the years of hardship and separation from my mother. These unwanted gifts shaped me into who I am and allows me to love people in a way I might not otherwise.

    The ability to show mercy on others and forgive is a powerful gift. I would not change my past because I love the woman it made me to be. My past belongs to God and I’m so grateful that He was able to turn the ugliness of my life into something beautiful and pure.

  2. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Beautifully put, Jeannie. You said it so eloquently. You are a courageous, wonderful person whom I’m privileged to know. Your candor, perspective, and ability to love deeply despite the harshness of life are so refreshing in a world where cynicism can so easily take over.

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