Sometimes it’s necessary to put pride aside

Staff writer Andrea Torres chronicles her breast cancer experiences in Tropical Life. Read past columns at MiamiHerald.com/health.

06/19/2012 5:00 AM

05/06/2013 6:04 PM

Breast cancer forces one to practice humility, but pride can still get in the way. Character flaws test us in our most difficult moments, and when one overcomes those tests, there is growth.

Before the cancer, I would never have gone to a Miami Heat watch party at the AmericanAirlines Arena, but last week my friend Christine Anderson invited me to go with her family.

“I’m scared to go. All these different kinds of people are going to be there,” I told a colleague. I was worried for my safety.

He encouraged me to put my fears aside: “Stop it! You will have a good time.”

As we walked toward the arena, I thought about why I had never gone to one of these parties, and arrogance came to mind. The idea of being around rude people would have seemed so unnecessary.

As we prepared to enter the arena, an authoritative voice warned people that weapons and fireworks were not allowed. There was a metal detector, and a person checking purses.

It was quite a scene inside: The music was loud, and people were dancing up a storm while they waited for the Heat-Thunder telecast to begin from Oklahoma City. Fans were showing their colors with red face paint, silver wigs, white body suits and glittered hair. A cameraman zoomed in on a woman in her 60s, and when she realized all eyes were on her, she showed off her Caribbean booty-shaking style. The joy was contagious.

I realized I had wrongly assumed that because the tickets were inexpensive, people were going to be rude. They weren’t. There were cute children and babies in the crowd. And no one got into a fist fight. Instead, there was a sense of comradery.

“Thank you so much for inviting me,” I told Christine. “I would never have done this before.”

A misplaced sense of arrogance (and fear) could have kept me from enjoying a fun, invigorating evening. Another kind of pride can keep you from asking for — and accepting — help when you really need it. And there is no time for such nonsense when you have cancer.

A friend who is being treated for stage 4 breast cancer says she is still embarrassed about the times when she was weak.

“I think about my boyfriend and all that he has had to do for me, and the messes he has had to clean up for me,“ she says. “I feel so lucky to have him in my life, but something changed between us.”

Cancer treatment changes us in so many ways. My mom and brother have been my rocks. And I didn’t expect that. Growing up, I developed an intense desire to be self-sufficient and independent. And in my 20s, I didn’t think I needed anybody.

My brother and I were distant before the cancer, but now we are close. He shaved my head when my hair began to fall.

I was afraid of burdening my mother with my illness, but she did everything for me when I couldn’t care for myself after surgery and chemo. I dreaded being so helpless, but I was grateful she was there for me.

Putting pride aside has its benefits. At the arena, it allowed me to take part in an ecstatic communal experience.

“I am learning from you,” I told Christine as we watched the Miami Heat game. At 27, she has been dealing with multiple myeloma for two years. She is unable to work because of her cancer treatment, and her “tight Irish family” has been taking care of her.

She said she has learned to focus on the moment, and has advised me to not be embarrassed to ask for help.

“I have lost my edge, and I don’t even care,” she said. “I’m in pain and I get tired easily. Life has changed for me but I am OK with that. We have to make the best of it.”

Then a Miami Heat player scored. She held my hand and screamed, “Go Heat!” Her smile showed she was proud of her team. And I was proud of her.

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