How to Dare Greatly With Cancer


Granddaughter Lilly, a black belt in Mixed Martial Arts, recently competed in an MMA tournament and captured two third place finishes. On the way home, she and I FaceTimed and of course she was disappointed, because she has some rather nice first-place hardware in her room at home.

But by the time she and her dad stopped for lunch and she got home to post a photo to Instagram, here was her thought: “Win or lose, I left it all on the mats today.”

I have a very wise 15-year-old granddaughter.

I’m reading Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. The title comes from President Roosevelt’s 1910 speech delivered in Paris. Most likely, you’ve heard this passage that made it famous:

Photo credit: Pixaby
Photo credit: Pixaby

“It is not the critic who counts…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again … but who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Lilly and I talked about how much courage it took to even get on the mats, and how every time we do something challenging, no matter the outcome, it makes us stronger, wiser, quicker on our feet.

She reminds me of her grandfather. Hubby left it all on the mats. He lived and died well with cancer, and I am the lucky one who got to walk beside him through this astonishing, sorrowful, sweet, heart-rending, faith-strengthening journey.

So, how do you even begin to dare greatly? Here are a couple of thoughts from our experience:

  1. Determine your arena. What keeps you awake at night – not in anxiety, but in planning? What can you offer that would make the world a better place? Hubby and I both had a passion to share hope and practical tips for living well despite terminal cancer. Which pushed us out into uncomfortable places before audiences across the country. But he loved knowing that our story was a source of encouragement to others dealing with cancer.
  2. Prepare for your arena. Put in the hours of training; draft lesson plans, travel plans, a business plan; show up for class, for the commitment you made. Hubby and I created a tag-team presentation and asked an oncologist friend to review it, who put together a critique team of healthcare professionals. We tweaked the message, established a non-profit, wrote for grant funding and booked speaking engagements. None of which we had ever done.
  3. Step in and dare greatly. At some point you need to stop preparing for the thing and actually do the thing. Make your candidate speech. Hang the sign over your bakery. Submit your novel and let someone actually read what you’ve written. Put one foot in front of the other and step into the arena.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown refers to her two TED Talks, one of which went viral:

“Both of the talks are flawed and imperfect, but I walked into the arena and gave it my best shot. The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.”

I’m stepping into an arena that involves public speaking and writing and seeking a literary agent, a publisher; it involves being imperfect and vulnerable; it involves setting myself up for rejection, for placing last.

But I’m showing up and leaving it all on the mats.

What about you? What is your arena, and how are you preparing to step into it?

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