I gave a speech at work about my cancer experience. There were a lot of engineers and other quantitative types in the audience. I knew that if I said I was diagnosed at age 43 and was in my 14th year of survival, somebody could calculate my age, probably backwards and in dog years, too.
So I just went ahead and made it part of the speech. They were digesting the numbers when I called out to a friend who works in finance, as well as my colleagues in communications, who were there in droves to support me.
“Hey, Debra. I know you can do the math. Communicators, I know you can’t.”
Everybody laughed, and I said for those of you who need help adding it up, that makes me 57 years old. It was liberating to just say it and move on ... to take away the power of intimidation and own it.
You can dye your hair and inject your face, and that might create the illusion of youth, but I'm pretty sure they know how old we are. My thinking is that silence is a position of weakness, and being silent erodes confidence over time. I refuse to cower. About anything. Although I will say that some things come easier than others.
My speech was on breaking the silence about ovarian cancer. That’s the national theme, but it’s my personal theme as well, because I didn’t speak out for so long. Too scared. Five years, 10 years, at what point do you quit worrying about your own fears and help someone else?
It came full circle today. I had a meeting at work and confess to being a little abrupt at first. I had so much to do, and I really didn’t have the time to go through all this. But a guy on my team and a woman I didn’t know needed my input, so I agreed to a spur-of-the-moment meeting. About half-way through I apologized for being snippy, and I thanked them for engaging me in the discussion.
We were done with our business, and the woman said, “On another matter, I’d like to thank you for your speech two weeks ago. You probably saved my life.”
I’m like, whoa. Seriously? It turns out her mother died of ovarian cancer, and her grandmother died of ovarian cancer. She said, “I’m 52 years old. That's the age my mother died, and I just refused to deal with it. Nobody talks about it, so I ignored my risk. You inspired me to see my doctor. I couldn’t do it before. I was too afraid.”
She went on to say that she wanted to live, and after she saw that someone else had actually lived through it, she knew it was time to get her head out of the sand.
That’s how I feel about life, aging and gray hair. Let's get our heads out of the sand. If enough of us draw the line at pretending we’re anything but the age we are, and if we are lucky enough to live through it, we can help people see that the second half of life is rich with possibility.
And guess what? Youth doesn't even get you in the door.