What My Best Friend's Cancer Taught Me About Courage


By Jordan Langdon

How does a person come to truly understand the benefits of trying something new and unfamiliar vs. shying away and allowing fear to dictate their actions?

Reflecting on some of my most courageous times in life, it hit me!  The lasting impact of accomplishing something that takes lots of courage, far outweighs the guilt that lingers around when we give into fear.

One of the most painful disappointments that lingers with me today, is the regret of allowing my fear to determine the amount of time I spent with my dear childhood friend, in the final months of her life.  I was in disbelief when she was diagnosed with cancer in her mid 30’s. I couldn’t imagine my friend of 25+ years, who was married with two children, facing the end of her life.  What emotional and physical changes was she about to endure that I was too fearful to acknowledge?

My daughter and I drove the 2.5 hours to visit her in Wyoming once, early on in her illness before any of her treatment or physical signs of cancer had started.  I was so afraid of acknowledging the truth of her “terminal” diagnosis, I never traveled to see her again. I allowed my fear of not knowing what to say and not knowing how to respond to her own fear of leaving her husband, children and family behind to paralyze me and keep me in my own sort of safe zone.  

Teresa passed away 15 months after her diagnosis. I never saw her in her raw moments.

Years have passed, and the time has given me a chance to reflect. I don’t have another chance to laugh and spend time with my “Sassy”, but I choose to learn a valuable lesson from this experience: I DO want to face my fears of vulnerability and walk through them, not around them.

For me, courage means vulnerability.  It means walking into something with your guard down and the grace to allow yourself to fully participate in your emotions, without judgement.  It means allowing people to truly see your fears and watch you push through them.

The times I have given myself permission to fully join in someone else’s suffering, have been the times I have seen my relationships dive to deeper and deeper levels.  As a counselor, many of my clients explain a feeling of getting stuck or being stuck, much like I was with my dear friend Teresa. They feel paralyzed when someone around them is suffering, and do not know the questions to ask or words to say to make someone feel better.  I can relate.

The truth is, a person who is suffering emotionally or physically, feels whether we have our safe zone guard up or not.  To have courage and trust that allowing ourselves to go into the deep trenches with our friends, spouses, and children, means choosing to avoid the lingering and painful disappointments of what could have been and gives us the gift of truly loving those around us.  By having courage, we allow those around us to face their fears too!

Today, courage for me looks like: tears streaming down my face when someone discloses their suffering or pain.  It means sharing the words “I have no idea how you’ve been coping with this” and “I don’t have the words, but I’m willing to sit with you and experience what you’re experiencing and we can navigate this together”.  

Put on your cape of courage and dive deeper, friends! Let us be examples to our children of how courage pushes us beyond our fears and helps us live with no regrets.

RIP Teresa “Sassy” Vogl-Lewis

Steven Markel