There are heroes all around us. Every community is full of amazing individuals who show great courage in the face of adversity as they live their lives from day to day. Ellensburg is no exception.
On a recent lazy summer afternoon during a backyard party, I had the privilege to connect with a friend who has been battling cancer for several years. This past year has been perhaps one of the most difficult for her- the cancer has spread, and a cure is not possible. Intelligent, articulate and accustomed to contributing to her community, she is no longer able to work but instead is immersed in the intense world of cancer treatment.
“I don’t feel very amazing,” she said in response to my statement that she was. “Oh but you are very amazing,” I replied. “ You have approached a difficult situation with grace, courage, a sense of humor and determination. You are very amazing.” She looked at me almost as if I was describing someone else.
“These amazing people don’t see it- they don’t realize they are heroes,” I thought to myself.
A hero is one who “shows great courage.” In my experience, the heroes I see in healthcare are numerous, and are the last to see they are exceptional. A privilege that comes with my work as a physician is that I come face to face with heroes everyday.
Recently, for example, I saw a man with multiple sclerosis who was struggling to maintain his independence in the face of worsening muscle weakness. He had worked hard all his life performing manual labor. Despite his body failing him, he has pushed on and continued to work, because in working, he feels whole. At a recent visit with his neurologist, my patient was told he may not be able to drive any longer- a necessity to his work. “What happens now?” he said as he stared at the ground, determined to find some way forward.
On that same day I met with a woman, who in the midst of grieving the sudden loss of her husband, experienced a stroke. Her passion in life is playing her musical instrument, and the stroke weakened her arm and impaired her coordination. “Our symphony has to play Beethoven’s 9th soon which is very difficult. I’m going to play it, but it won’t be pretty.” Although she lost her husband and then was knocked back by a stroke, she rose to her new challenges and strove to live her life fully.
And to finish the afternoon, I met with a young man and his mother. This well-loved man in his early 20’s had his life in front of him, but was now in the throws of heroin addiction. He was unable to take the steps he needed to regain his life. His mother was doing her best to support him despite seemingly endless painful setbacks. She was sad, discouraged and heartbroken, but each day did what she could to help him and mustered hope that her son may someday regain his life.
These are my heroes: people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, strokes, drug addiction. These are people right here in our community, individuals who draw from their inner strength to manage disease and disability.
And a remarkable quality common to these unique individuals is that, as a general rule-of-thumb, they all do not see that they are amazing. They take one day at a time and do their best to make the best of profound and difficult health circumstances. One step in front of the other- that’s what is on their minds.
These are American heroes, right here in Ellensburg. They don’t see that they are all remarkable, but of course they are. Next time you see one of them, help them look up from their daily struggles to see the sun and see the reality that they are our heroes.
Tell them they are amazing.