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The other side of bravery

Here’s a fun fact about me — I have a soft spot for sunglasses.

I love their aesthetic purpose, different levels of tints, unique shapes, and other little details. But what made me fall in love the most is the reason that sunglasses cover up something the eyes won’t see.

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Sadness. Grief. Fear.

When we portray the image of being fearless to people, they almost forget that we, too, are humans. We crumble.

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Growing up, people treated bravery as an asset. They’d always say that fearless people are lucky that they can face challenges head on, magically turning fear into strength. I was too proud, then, to call myself brave, especially when I call myself a cancer warrior. But now, I hate being called a fighter. I thought of bravery as a curse, because it was lonely there.

This past week, memories of being “brave” kept rushing back.

There was the memory of my dad as an overseas Filipino worker.

The memory was vivid as I held back tears when saying goodbye every time he would leave, unsure if we’d still meet again. I was proud of how different I was from other family members who kept crying. Maybe it was way too comfortable waving goodbye with sunglasses on? I thought of it as bravery.

I remembered the death of a cherished dog, Lucan.

My best friend, who was my first dog, died at 8:30 a.m. and a scheduled youth camp’s call time was at 9 a.m. I cried for 30 minutes, a length a best friend does not deserve. I appeared at 9 a.m., all smiles, wearing my favorite sunglasses. I thought I was brave.

I also remembered the day I received my biopsy results.

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I learned that cancer was taking over my body. I was at work at that time and felt like melting. I had a five-minute breakdown in our comfort room and went out as if nothing happened. My boss noticed that my eyes were puffy, and I made the lame excuse that I was catching a cold.

I remembered calling home, telling my mom and dad about the results, and comforting them with the words, “I am okay” with all smiles. Hospital staff members always commend me for being calm and happy even when an operation is about to happen. My coworkers commend me every time I step in the office with stylish sunglasses on, energetic as always, despite undergoing medical treatments. My friends, family, and partner are thankful that I show a positive attitude despite cancer.

Smiling and throwing a joke when asked how the cancer is going is bravery, for everyone. I was too proud of being a warrior at heart. But now, I began realizing these brave moments are memories that feel the loneliest.

Maybe the memory of my father leaving for work, my dog’s death, or my cancer journey would not be so lonely if I wasn’t brave. Maybe, if I only showed true emotions back then, hugs would have offered a relief.

I made it to the worst chapter of life — hating myself for being brave, trapped with maybes. How I wish I wasn’t brave. Maybe memories did not make me feel so alone.

But life has its ways of getting you back on track.

It was this one day that I started to appreciate bravery. That time when I was lying on the operating table. It’s when I and God had a conversation. The moment I said, “Kayo na po ang bahala, mahina po ako kapag wala ka.” (Your will be done. I am weak without you.) It was the purest form of bravery I experienced. For the first time, I was accepting help, removing masks, and recognizing weakness.

In life, we tend to fail in recognizing struggles that need to be addressed and validated. We are so drowned by the concept of bravery as being okay despite being hurt, or having high pain tolerance, or masking up fear. We forgot how to be true. We forgot how to accept. We forgot to be vulnerable. We forgot to be human.

To all my co-cancer warriors, survivors, and everyone whose loved ones are battling one, cancer may be a bit scary. No, it is really scary, and being brave isn’t about showing strength all the time. Bravery doesn’t always have to be tolerating the pain or denying fear. Sometimes, it happens when we crumble, when we cry, when we pray, and we pick our hopes up. These are silent times when bravery kicks in.

What life taught me is that bravery is a two-edged sword. We all mastered its side of denying, or tolerance, or whatever we call it. But I discovered the other side —the beauty of showing weakness. Our vulnerability as humans.

This June, as we celebrate Cancer Survivors Month, let us recognize our weakness, seek help, show our battles to our loved ones, pray, hope, and keep going.

Let us take off our sunglasses.

* * *

Jade Hernandez, 25, is a brave cancer warrior.

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TAGS: bravery, Cancer Survivors Month, Young Blood
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