The need for survivor stories

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, September 18, 2013

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Our biggest fights are usually the ones we don’t see coming.

I’ve been reminded of that over the past few weeks as I’ve visited with several breast cancer survivors for our upcoming Breast Cancer Awareness special section to be published next week.

The one thing that always strikes me when I’m visiting with these cancer survivors is their attitude. Although I’m sure they’ve gone through a range of emotions, each has seem to come to a similar point.


Without that, there probably wouldn’t be much of a fight.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

Their stories also serve as a reminder that the world we know can change in an instant. For some, it might be the sound of an automatic rifle being fired in a building at the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C., or a bomb going off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. For others, it might be a tornado bearing down on their home.

For many, it comes with hearing the words “You have cancer.”

In all these cases there might be a few things we could do to prevent a tragedy, but for the most part, the events themselves are out of our hands.

As one breast cancer survivor last week reminded me, we can’t always control what happens to us. But we can control our attitude about how we react to it.

It sounds simple enough, but I imagine it is difficult to overcome the feeling of “Why me?” That question may never be fully answered. I suppose you reach a point where that particular question doesn’t matter anymore, replaced with “Why not me? I can beat this just like anyone else.”

And that is where survivor stories come in. Seeing people overcome their own adversity helps us tackle whatever challenge might be in our path.

A couple of months ago, I read an excellent story in The New York Times about Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman. You might remember him from one of the iconic images captured that day of Jeff being wheeled away to an ambulance by three people while clutching what was left of his legs. He lost both legs and sustained serious burns on his back. The blast destroyed his right eardrum and left a hole in his left one, making it hard for him to hear.

The story talks about his recovery and ends with Bauman standing on his prosthetic legs for the first time, taking his first few steps.

He was moving forward, both physically and emotionally.

The article points out that Bauman had become the face of the tragedy, or more specifically, the face of the survivors of the tragedy. People viewed him as a hero because they respected his bravery.

I’m sure over the next few days we will hear similar stories of survivors of the mass shooting in our nation’s capital. Perhaps those stories, too, will give us hope that if an unexpected fight finds us, we can add our own survivor story to the list.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special project manager.

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