The morning of my double mastectomy the sun was shining. It was a beautiful morning and the summer sun was reflecting off the dewy grass, glistening across Hamilton mountain. I waited for that day anxiously after my doctor confirmed Ductal Carcinoma In Situ was growing in my right breast. A panel of experts at McMaster who studied my case recommended I have the radical procedure right away.
The surgery took about three or four hours. After I woke up and gathered my mind total pain hit me. Every breath felt like I was being crushed. What remained of the day was a balancing act between morphine, sleep, and incoherent ramblings to my family about little blue popcorn men wearing numbers.
Later that night, a group of nurses came to my room to help me start moving around. They lifted me up, and as I took my first few steps I hit a wall of physical pain that was so significant I fainted. There is no comparison to the amount of pain I felt in the hospital that night. There are no words to describe it.
After four days I was allowed to go home. Yet, pain was with me. At the start I was unable to lift a drink to my lips because of the pain. Things like sneezing were excruciating. I couldn’t lay flat, so for six weeks I slept sitting up. The next six months pain was a part of my daily life.
Three surgeries and a year and a half later the process is nearly complete and pain is finally behind me. What remains are two scars across my chest, twelve inches on the left side and ten inches on the right. It is dark and the skin around my scars feels thick and tough. In the Confederacy there is a nugget of wisdom. ‘They say’ the chiefs need to have skin “seven spans thick”. I wondered, what does it actually take to make thick skin like that? In the literal sense, my thick scars brought me through a long journey of pain, pressure, and healing. Is it the same true for a leader of the people?
It is a natural human response to flee from pain for fear of destruction. Growing thick skin however, requires you to face pain head on. You have to endure it. Eventually destruction and defeat become disarmed, and their power – void. Life comes into perspective and you become a survivor. At the beginning you carry a delicate wound, but after you have healed the process is complete. Here, a tender love for the people grows because of what you have been through.
Creating peace and beauty for them becomes so much more important than preserving yourself. Maybe it’s why so many survivors become involved in advocating awareness for their conditions. It’s the same responsibility you feel when holding a newborn in your arms. They are so much more delicate and fragile because they have never suffered, and they need our protection.
Our grandfathers knew all this. A developing servant-leader won’t run away from the good fight or anticipate failure just because pain or opposition comes along. Ultimately the struggle works for good; building strength and sharpness to your character that nothing else can hone.
While the journey is arduous, a servant-leader with skin seven spans thick, who carries a peaceful mind, endurance, no fear of pain, and love for the nations will bring people to their own victory, and transform a nation.
By Nahnda Garlow