The Guilt of Being a Cancer Survivor
Guilt? How can someone feel guilty for living? How can someone feel guilty for surviving the beast invading their body? I never understood "survivor's guilt" until I became a survivor myself.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has people around who love and depend on them. I was a young mom when I was diagnosed. My son, who was 3 at the time of my diagnosis, does not even remember the majority of our trauma. He doesn't remember what I looked like without hair. He doesn't remember not being able to hug and kiss me. Thank G-d.
Catherine was a mother is 3 children, the same age as mine. She owned her law firm and fought Triple Negative Breast Cancer 4 times before it took her life. Near the end, she would show me pictures of how the cancer literally ripped her skin open. It was painful to watch.
Marie-Elaine was a grandmother who not only gave so generously to her own family, but to those around her. When she saw on Instagram that my elderly dog can no longer jump on my bed, she insisted I come over and take the doggy stairs from her house.
Tasha, also a young mom had metastatic breast cancer. She traveled to the USA for experimental treatment, always dressed to the nines with a huge smile on her face. Sadly, she passed less than a month ago.
And Ellie. Sweet Ellie. A month younger than my boy Zachary. She died two weeks before her 9th birthday. There are no words.
These are just a handful of people I knew personally who lost their battles with cancer. Hearing about these passing's brings on a vulnerability and a reality about my own life. Why am I thriving while others are not? I am far from perfect - why am I still in this world when a child is not?
I am very cognizant of the fact that I am four months away from my big 5 year mark. When I was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago, life was pretty damn close to perfect. We had just moved into our dream home, my brother just had his first child, I was in the best shape of my life, and we were traveling with my husband's ENTIRE family to Los Angeles for a big event. Cancer then swooped in and threw our world upside down. Today, life is good. My daughter is starting high school in a few short weeks. I am working out and getting stronger everyday. My dog is still with us, at 15 years old. Our house is still under renovations, but beautiful as ever. Do house renos ever stop? I think not!
Will our world be taken away from us again?
The back of my mind is always counting to those five years. In two weeks I have my appointment with my oncologist and the anticipation is palpable. Its been 6 months since my last blood tests. What makes me different than those people who have passed away from their cancers? What makes me different than those diagnosed with metastatic cancer? I am no better than them, no stronger than them, and not more loved than they are. Is it just a numbers game?
There is not a day that goes by where I do not think about those who we lost. Friday night Shabbat candles, I pray that they are at peace. I pray that their families are getting stronger every day.
If their deaths have taught me anything, it is that people like me need to continue the fight for those who cannot. I need to bring awareness and help raise money. I need to walk, run, bike, and whatever else is required of me to continue their fight. I will do interview after interview to remind others the importance of knowing their bodies. I will do what I can as often as I can.
To all those who have lost their lives to cancer, your deaths are not unnoticed. I will fight for our children and our grandchildren to hopefully live in a world without cancer. You may be gone, but you are never forgotten.
Love, Joy - Breast Cancer Survivor
Your friend or loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and you don’t know to say
Do I ask them details? Do I tell them that everything will be ok? How do I react?
When I was diagnosed, my friends and loved ones had all sorts of different reactions. Some cried, while others were tough and assured me that I was going to be ok. Some dropped off food, while others would send me a daily text to tell me that they were thinking of me.
It’s a delicate situation and often can be uncomfortable. You don’t know what to say or what NOT to say. Here are some helpful tips:
The biggest question I found that my loved ones had, was surrounding chemotherapy. Most people (myself included!) did not know what chemo looked like and it made them nervous. Once I explained how chemo looked for me, I found my friends and family wanting to take turns to take me for treatment. It became the social outings that I desperately needed, chatting, laughing, and having lunch. Everyone found my lack of patience amusing, and I would constantly press my call button to move onto the next step of my meds. Most importantly, the energy on the chemo ward made a world of difference. It was not somewhere that was scary and sad, rather a place of warmth and love.
It is okay to not know what to say. Even if your exact words are, "I don't know what to say but I love you." One of my biggest fears was that I would be left behind - that my friends and coworkers will go on with their lives and forget about me. I will leave you with this quote that struck a chord, and a copy of a text message from my teenage cousin when he found out that I was sick.
"The worst thing someone said to me was nothing at all."