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.