As I celebrate one year of cancer-free health, being a survivor comes with it’s own burdens to bear. There are emotional and physical side effects of treatment that pop-up every now and then, some go away and some are here forever.
Scientists do not really understand “chemo brain”, but if you are a cancer survivor you are already smiling and nodding your head in understanding of the challenges it can bring. It does not affect everyone the same and, in my experience, it kind of changes after treatment is over.
There are often emotional burdens that weigh on survivors, too. Survivor guilt is another part of cancer that no one asks for but it comes as part of the burden we bear. After I was diagnosed, I honestly thought “that will never happen to me. I will never feel guilty”. Unfortunately, survivor guilt can not be avoided. Eventually you will run into it head-on at full speed and this week I hit the wall not once, but twice.
I met J.S. at a ‘Survivorship 101’ class at my local cancer center. (I will admit I am not the type to get in a group and share my feelings. But this was the best group of people I have ever met. And they “got” it; they understood what I was feeling and struggling with even before the words would come out of my mouth.) J.S. inspires me like no one ever has. She is so strong and beautiful-inside and out. When we met, she was recovering from her second diagnosis with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Unfortunately, just this week, she found out her cancer is back. She begins chemo again today and will have another stem cell transplant at Duke University later on. The emotional hurt I feel for her is heavy. I feel “guilty” that I get to be cancer free and she doesn’t. Please pray for her family. She has a young son and will need to find a ‘foster’ home for him while she moves to Duke for her transplant and recovery. I can not imagine the burden that places on her heart.
J.H., one of the sweetest ladies I know, has struggled with cancer treatments in some form for almost 40 years. She came to sit with me the day of my first chemo treatment. We have become close over the past year and she has celebrated with me over all my victories and I have held her hand when the doctors told her there was only one more thing to try. Unfortunately, she has come to the end of treatment options for herself. She was sent home this week to meet with hospice to deal with end-of-life issues. There are no words to describe how empty I feel, how many tears I have cried in deep sorrow, how helpless to know you can not change the outcome for your friend. She is strong and upbeat, but I know she carries a burden of trying to make it “ok” for everyone around her. But, you now what, it’s not ok. It’s not ok that she doesn’t get to be cancer-free. She is a better person than I will ever be and has prayed more than I ever will. She deserves to live more than anyone I know. Yet, she will face choices and decisions in which no one should have to face. My heart aches for her and her family.
I take comfort in knowing that God is in control. He knew us before He formed us in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5). And He holds us in His all-powerful hand. Because He has proved Himself to me, I am believing with all my heart He will be kind, gracious, merciful and loving when the time comes for my friend to walk in healing. I know J.H. will close her eyes and when she looks up again, she will see the One that died for her and she will be healed.
Although my heart is heavy for my friends, I celebrate the healing He has done in me. I may not understand His ways, but I know they are higher than my way. I trust Him.
Praying and Believing!
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,So are My ways higher than your ways,And My thoughts than your thoughts”. -Isaiah 55:8-9
Congratulations on one year cancer-free! And thank you for your post. I never thought of it as “survivor’s guilt” before. I’m not sure what label I would have given that feeling if someone had asked. Now I know. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you go through this time with your friends.