Sometimes you win the coin toss; other times you lose, but you always hold both sides in your hand. Kind of a profound thought for something you stick into your pocket, drop on the floor, pull out from under the couch cushions or throw into that pink plastic piggy bank.
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In February, Sunny Atkins lost her battle with cancer. I met her when I interviewed her last September. She’d been dealing with a rare form of liver cancer since she was diagnosed Stage 4 in May of 2012. After chemotherapy and surgery, it looked, for a month, as if Sunny was cancer-free. But, the cancer returned, invading her liver again and spreading into her spine. More chemo and surgery.
When I met Sunny, she was walking 1 1/2 miles a day despite having her spine encased in a steel cage. She looked healthy and determined. She had also made a choice: “I don’t want to be on that chemo cycle where you get more chemo and then more aggressive chemo that makes you sick, but doesn’t cure you and then you die.”
With the support of friends, Sunny organized and put on her own fundraiser to raise money so she could explore alternatives to the chemo cycle. There was a doctor in Texas who was getting remarkable success in cancer cures and a clinic in South America.
But, whether she ran out of time or the alternatives didn’t work for her, Sunny died. The point of this is that she might not have. If the right alternative treatment had been found and Sunny was in healthy remission, this would be the prelude to an amazing story.
Every year, tornadoes devastate parts of the nation, demolishing one house and sparing the one across the street. Every day, you can read about remarkable rescues or unexplainable cures of terminal diseases. Despite all our careful preparation and proactivity, sometimes the coin flip is with us and sometimes, it’s just not.
With the recent Olympics, there were plenty of inspirational stories about athletes who overcame incredible obstacles to be participants in the Games. We relish those stories and root for the athletes to win gold. But, despite all the preparation, best of equipment and planning, there is still an element we cannot control. Some cry foul or blame the weather and snow conditions, but often it all comes down to the flip of the coin.
I don’t think we should stop trying to stack the odds on our side. I think you should do all you that you can for as long as you can. Being proactive and taking positive action is empowering, especially when you might otherwise feel helpless. And, showing up in your own life and being committed to it is often what turns the tide. But, at some point, different for each one of us, you have to let go and allow the coin to flip over and over in the air, awaiting the decision of the universe.
I’m saddened that Sunny lost her fight. It could so easily have been a win.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.