Cancer and Survivor’s Guilt

Ten years. Cancer free. It almost seems unbelievable, how fast it’s all gone. I’ve been thinking about this anniversary, and as usual, I seem to be stuffing my inner most feelings. I’m afraid to go that deep. I should have some words of wisdom or some deep reflection about this anniversary, but my emotions seem to be all over the place, so I’m stuffing them.

I don’t talk about my cancer journey often, but when I do, it’s only with the hope of encouraging someone else. Everyone’s cancer journey is different, so I can’t presume to know what another is feeling. But as I reflect on my ten years of being a survivor (or 15, if you count the first time I had cancer), I’m feeling emotions that I haven’t seen much written or talked about.

I think I have survivor’s guilt.

Don’t get me wrong. Today needs to be a day of celebration and gratitude from the deepest parts of my soul. Gratitude to God for providing the right doctors at the right time. For our second opinion doctor about post-surgery treatment, for my husband, children and family  for their continuing love and support. I feel all of that.

But deep down, the emotions are startling to me. If I let reality in, the reality that I could’ve died, the reality that I survived when I know of so many others who have lost their cancer battles, then that will make me crumble.

I want to acknowledge this day, this moment, instead of crumbling. Life is good right now, there are so many blessings of family, friends and grandchildren!  But with all of that comes the question of how can I live up to being a cancer survivor?

I was spared when others weren’t.

This is why my emotions are all over the place. I never thought of survivor’s guilt with cancer. I think I’ve felt this way for a long time. Every time someone lost their cancer battle, I felt guilty for “winning” mine. I know God has a purpose for it all, but it doesn’t make it easy to understand.

So, how do I resolve this?

Instead of putting enormous pressure on myself to do something monumental, perhaps I need to just look at my purpose day-to-day. Maybe an act of kindness every day is monumental. Taking a friend to lunch. Heck, having a nice warm dinner ready for my husband after his long commute home from work on cold, wet roads. Is that enough? Being a good Grammy and loving on my precious grandchildren, is that monumental enough? Is it “fulfilling my purpose?” I say yes to all of the above. Perhaps my big purpose in life may be how well I live my life day-to-day.

For today, while inwardly, I may struggle with the emotions of being a survivor, outwardly, I celebrate. I thank God for giving me these ten years and I pray I’ll have many more. I pray I find a way to live up to being one of the survivors of this horrible disease.

And maybe it’s all that any of us can do. Most of us won’t influence the entire world, but we can influence those around us.

I may never be world-famous or change the world, but I can serve a purpose with the world around me.

 

Perspective

Have you ever reached a point where you feel like things are crashing down around you? You’re burnt out with your job, annoyed with your spouse, even fed-up with friends? Nothing’s really wrong, except that you just feel fried by life. You need a vacation!

That’s where I was recently. Nothing was really wrong. Life is good. My grandchildren are beautiful (I’m having the best time crocheting toys for them!). And my husband and I are in a good place with jobs and our marriage.

So, what’s the deal? Why do I feel like I need Calgon to take me away? (I’m may be giving away my age with that reference!).

But as I attempted to have a pity party with myself, another part of me stood up to smack me in the head. The other part of me remembered where I was 10 years ago this month. How things have changed, but how good things have been in the last decade.

You see, ten years ago, I was diagnosed with my second bout with cancer. Something we had thought we had beaten five years earlier reared its ugly head again, in a slightly different form, and tried to take over my life, or more accurately, take my life.

Facing my cancer diagnosis together

This time, I had a double mastectomy, but chose not to have chemotherapy. It was an aggressive cancer to be sure, but the reasons for chemo just weren’t there. I’ve had my share of radiation from my first time with breast cancer.

So, as I think back at that time in my life, the diagnosis coming right before my birthday (the picture was taken on my birthday, knowing the diagnosis but still not knowing what the treatment would be), and the surgery coming a month later, I realize I have NOTHING to be down about. Since that time, I’ve been blessed with my children’s marriages, and two beautiful grandchildren. Yes, there’s been tough times, including cancer battles for my mother and brother, but there’s been so much joy, too. And many, many blessings.

When I feel down, or annoyed, or fed up, it doesn’t hurt to still want a vacation. It’s good to take a break. But I need to put these feelings in perspective. I’m still here. I’m strong. I’m healthy. I’m tremendously blessed with family and friends.

No time for a pity party here. It’s time to celebrate 10-years of being cancer-free instead. That’s my kind of party!

How do you keep perspective?

The Look in Her Eyes

I recognized the look in my friend’s eyes. I could see beyond her smile and her hugs. Deep inside, I saw fear. Fear of the unknown she is facing, and the new path she’s now walking. You see, my friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
I could see beyond her brave face, because I’ve been down that road myself…twice.

Our small group gathered around her and her family the night before her first chemo treatment, to pray for her. She was strong, and her faith was evident, but I think only someone who’s walked in similar shoes could see that particular look in her eyes – overwhelmed, fearful, but trusting, because it’s times like these where you need to trust God more than ever.

When you’re told you have cancer, before you can even comprehend those words, you’re suddenly whisked off for a battery of consultations, tests and scheduling.

Cancer barely penetrates your mind, yet it’s looming over everything you do from that moment forward. Your world has shifted upside down, and you’ve stepped on the roller coaster. And it can be quite the ride.
25fec-beckyandvince
Here is a picture of my husband and me where I can see “that look” in my own eyes. This was taken on a Sunday, on my birthday. We were having a great day, enjoy the celebration with friends. But the Friday before, I had been diagnosed with my second bout of cancer, and the next day, a new round of tests, doctors, and mapping out treatment plans was beginning. So, as I turned another year older, I knew that year was going to be challenging, and scary, yet I had my husband right by my side and my faith to guide me. But I still had that fearful look of not knowing quite what to expect, trying to hang on to faith, while facing an unknown, frightening path.

It’s the look I saw in my friend’s eyes the night we prayed for her.

While I’ve walked in similar shoes as my friend, her journey will be different. Everyone’s is. But I will walk beside her, and pray for her and her husband and family.

That’s all I can do, and trust that God will hold her like He’s held me.

A Blink of an Eye

It’s amazing how things in your life can change in the blink of an eye… and take you into a completely new direction.

I’ve experienced this personally with my own journey with cancer. It profoundly changes you.

Losing parents and family members will change you. Becoming a parent… and so on…Good things and bad things can change your trajectory.

A couple of people in my life are experiencing things that will profoundly change them.

Sometimes processing the change and the impact it has on you is daunting. Knowing that you’ll never be the same again… but sometimes change is good, even when it starts out as scary or even life-threatening.

Having cancer, I’ve learned to appreciate life more. A lot of the little stuff that could be bothersome are no longer bothersome. Appreciating time with my husband, my kids, family — even watching the seasons change, makes me want to enjoy every day.

I’m a big believer in having a positive attitude. Attitude can help you through the lowest times. My faith in God, the hope that I found with faith also carries me through.

Going through the dark tunnel can bring even brighter days.

We may be resistant to change, but most times we have no choice. So having the positive attitude, and knowing that this won’t last, can carry you through.

After all, something else will come along, in the blink of an eye.

The Need for Community

This blog is entitled “Talking Among Friends” for a reason.  I want it to be a safe place to talk about friendships, relationships and life in general.  Originally, this blog started out as “Rebecca’s Journey,” where I wrote about my experience with cancer.Friends Silhouette

After a while, I didn’t want to talk about cancer any more.  Life started again, and I wanted to break away from that dreadful disease.  Relationships are what matter in this life, whether it’s your relationship with God, your family, and your spouse and kids.

Sadly, cancer is still a fact of life for friends around me.  It’s much too prevalent in this world, and I’m sure we all know someone who has had cancer or even passed away from this awful disease.

A friend of mine is recovering now, and has finished all of her treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.  She’s finding her way back.  At a recent gathering of friends, her first in a long time, she said something that struck me.  In the midst of her treatment, all she could do was sleep and focus on getting through it day-by-day. During that time, she said she couldn’t even pray.

For those of us who can’t get through the day without praying, even sending up the so-called “arrow prayers,” then we know what a dark place she was in.

As her friends, we had been rallying around her as best we could, in whatever way we could. Mostly, by prayer, emails and phone calls.

She also said something else.  She said, “Others held me up when I couldn’t.”

Talk about the power of community and friendship!  She could feel our support for her.  When I was fighting cancer, I could also feel the prayers of many.   What a comfort that was and how helpful it was in my own recovery.

Can you imagine not having friends or any type of community around you?

When life throws us curve balls, or when you’re celebrating a joyous occasion, how would it feel to celebrate alone?  Or to face the darkness alone?

We all get busy with our own families and careers, but it is so important to take the time to find that community, that fellowship and friendships in which to share your life.

We all need to make the effort, me included, to reach out more or deepen the friendships with those already in our lives.

What are you doing to take the time for friends? To find that community?

 

Cycles of Life



It’s been an interesting week.  I’m seeing the cycles of life, so to speak.  We received word that my aunt, who is in poor health, had taken a turn for the worst. Her kids and family were gathering around to spend time with her.  
A few days later, my husband and I attended a wedding – the joyous celebration of a young couple beginning their new life together. At the wedding, we spent time with friends that we don’t see often enough, unfortunately.
This year, we’ve enjoyed having a new member of our family, my niece’s son, born in January.  He’s my brother’s first grandchild, and my parents first great-grandchild.
Last weekend, my husband and I babysat our 2-year-old great nephew and had a blast.
Our son and his wife have moved to a new city, starting a new phase in their married life and with their careers.
The cycle of life is going strong right now. How many do we know that are fighting cancer, illness, financial difficulties, or celebrating weddings, pregnancies, births, and more?
It all makes me thoughtful and hopefully motivated to live each day to the fullest. None of us know how long we have on this earth. So, we need to spend it doing what God wants us to do, making time and spending time with friends, loving our families and not wasting a moment.
So when the various cycles of life hit, you can celebrate the highs, and have loved ones to cling to during the lows.
What are you doing to appreciate the little things in life? Do you have a church group or neighbors you are close to?  Is it time to call that friend and go have lunch or a cup of coffee? Share your thoughts on the highs and lows and how to make time for the important things.
Meanwhile, live life well… enjoy every moment.

My Re-Birthday


My birthday is coming up this week… and it’s one of those BIG birthdays. A milestone.
Whether we like it or not, birthdays keep coming. How do you celebrate your birthday?  Do you dread it – knowing there are a few more wrinkles or more gray hair? Do you just feel “old?”  Or do you say, “Thank you, God. Thank you for my time here, serving you.” 
I am a 2-time cancer survivor. My last diagnosis four years ago came two days before my birthday.  And let me tell you, something like that does change your perspective about your birthday! Suddenly my age didn’t matter. In fact, on my birthday, I didn’t think about the number, about how old I was turning.  What originally had been “uh oh, I’m making the turn for the downhill slide toward 50”, very quickly became “I’m too young.”  I’m too young to be faced with another bout of cancer that could kill me. There’s so much more I had left to do.
Since then, my birthdays have become my “re-birthday.”  A time to re-dedicate myself to Christ. A time to say: “Am I doing what God wants me to do here on earth? Am I dedicating myself to God in my everyday life, in how I live my life? Is His light shining through me?”
Hebrews, Chapter 12, verse 2 says very simply: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”
But we know we’re all sinners.  There are days when we fall short.  Yet as Christians, we know if we ask, God will forgive us and wipe the slate clean.  Does that mean there aren’t any consequences for our actions?  No. We know better than that. Sometimes what we do can leave scars.
Now, I’m real familiar with scars. Almost 30 years ago, I was in a motorcycle accident.   
Riding on the back of my then-boyfriend’s bike on a wonderful summer day.  A pick-up truck turned in front of us and we had nowhere to go.  We slid sideways into the truck.
I had a compound fracture of my right femur and ended up having four operations on my leg. As you can imagine, that left a scar—quite a long one – that goes from my knee all the way up to the top of my leg.  My husband calls it my zipper.
Now, I have more scars across my chest.  There are two ways you can look at scars. It’s easy to look at scars and believe they’re ugly and disfiguring.  With scars, you know you’ll never look the same way again as you did before.

Or you can look at scars as a sign of strength and survival, as God’s blessing.  You may ask yourself “What? Scars as a blessing? After the trauma that caused them?”
Yes, scars are a blessing.  My scars tell me that I’m still here. That God carried me through those surgeries, and that He has work for me to do here on earth. 
 
There’s a wonderful old hymn, written in 1922:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will go strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
So, on my upcoming birthday, as I reach my milestone of 50 years old, I’m not going to moan about my gray hair, or the deepening of my crow’s feet.  I want to have a re-birthday. I want it to be a celebration, and a re-dedication of my life to God.  He gave me this life, and I want to use it for His purpose.
I need to remember that God is always there, even through the dark times. As I mentioned, my last diagnosis came two days before my birthday, which was a Friday.  I was at home and grappling with the emotional side of being told I had cancer again.  Then the mail came.   
There was a package from my mother – a birthday present.
With tears still in my eyes from hearing the devastating cancer news, I opened my present.  Inside was a silver necklace. And on it was one word:  BELIEVE.
Mom later told me she doesn’t know why she sent me the necklace.  It had been a gift to her.  But she doesn’t wear silver…ever.  So, it was just sitting in her jewelry box, never to be worn. As my birthday approached, Mom thought she’d send it to me, not knowing it would arrive on such an awful day.
Although I was facing a long journey with cancer, and another birthday, there, in my hands, was a reminder to stay strong and believe.
Believe that God has a plan for your life. Enjoy every moment of getting older.  You can’t go back anyway.  I’m excited to see what God has in store for me.  So, on my birthday, or any day, I want to take time to thank God for my life and to re-dedicate myself to Him.  To really dedicate myself to what His will is for me.  I may show a few battle scars from life, but if my eyes are focused on Him, then His light will shine.  His light is more beautiful than any cosmetic I can apply anyway.  It’s not just a birthday; I want to have a re-birthday — focused on Him — and just BELIEVE.
So, how will you celebrate your next birthday?