Owasson Stephanie Jennings stands with her husband Jason and her two boys, Benjamin, 15, and Andrew 12, at a recent Race for the Cure. She says, “You will never regret taking a moment to bless someone, so go and be a blessing!” Courtesy photo

I don’t feel brave. I feel very unqualified to be anyone’s “hero.” And in my first 39 years of life, I’ve never once been called inspirational before. So, why are people saying this to me now? I have survived cancer. I still don’t think I am any of these things. While I’ve walked a path of most people’s nightmares, I did what you and everyone else do every single day: survive.

Cancer is a very ugly gift. I would gladly return it, but I can’t. In general, I think people often wonder how much they can take emotionally and physically. How far can you go if you are truly pushed? The truth is that I didn’t do anything less than most of you would have done. I didn’t want to do any of it, because I didn’t want cancer. But when you’re fighting for your life, you’ll find that there is very little you wouldn’t do.

I think every single one of us fights a battle or struggles at some point on the path of our life. I have seen the mom with four kids and thought, “How does she do it?” I’ve seen the family with the child fighting a disease and the daily care, surgeries and treatment that goes into giving them the best quality of life possible for as long as possible. How do they do that? The man who works two or three jobs to support his family because they have been crippled with unforeseen debt, how does he do that? We are all fighting a battle. And we do whatever we have to do to survive.

What makes it worth it, in my opinion, are the people who choose to walk the path with you. In my darkest days after diagnosis, I found myself surrounded by friends and family. I had a friend out of state who sent a very sweet care package. I had a friend I hadn’t seen in a year who set up a meal train for my family. I had a friend from high school who owned a cleaning business come and clean my house every week for a year. I had friends offer to take me to the doctor. My neighbor brought over a basket when I started radiation.

My family was also invaluable to me. My husband went to every single one of my chemo sessions with me and sat in a horribly uncomfortable chair for six to eight hours to be with me. My oldest son would tell me jokes or make me watch funny videos because my only goal was to laugh a LOT during my treatment. My youngest son is a lover, and he was a constant source of hugs and affirmation. All three of my boys made a point to tell me that I was beautiful and loved when I felt very unlovely. My mom, my sister and my mother-in-law are three amazing women. They would drive 30 minutes just to make me a sandwich and make sure I ate it. They would take me to appointments and take notes when I met the doctor because I couldn’t remember details very well after chemo. They were very careful to hug me often, but very gently especially after surgery and radiation.

You don’t have to experience the same valleys of life to be a blessing to someone who is in the valley! Almost none of these people who helped me during my treatment had been through cancer, or had a family member go through cancer. Even though they didn’t know what to do, and they didn’t always know what to say, they knew it was important just to be there. As important as it is to hear “I’m praying for you,” “Hang in there”, “You’ve got this,” it’s just as important to just show up. It was physically obvious that I was fighting my battle. But I want to encourage you to take a moment and try to see the battle your friends are fighting right now.

When we stop and look at those around us, are they tired, stressed, hopeless or depressed? Do you have the ability to breathe new life into them? We can all use some encouragement to keep fighting and live the best life that we can. Call your friend who feels like she’s struggling with her kids and take her to lunch. Go and visit that kid who fights every day with their disease. Make them smile and laugh and remind them that life is sweet. Run by your friend’s house and mow their lawn for them. The smallest gestures can make the biggest impact on those around you. You will never regret taking a moment to bless someone, so go and be a blessing!