It happened sooner than I expected, and it hit me like a tidal wave. When attending the funeral visitation for my sister-in-law’s husband’s sister, I wasn’t certain of her cause of death – until I saw the scarf on her head.
She was 64. She had children, grandchildren. She had been diagnosed with leukemia less than a year ago. A bone marrow transplant put the leukemia in remission, but then it came back with a vengeance. She was diagnosed about the time I was finishing the first phase of my treatment. I celebrated one year as a survivor. She did not.
As I stood looking at her, the question, “Why have I survived and she did not,” rolled through my mind. That could be me. Stage 3B metastatic melanoma – that could be me. Why have I been spared with clean scans, more than a year past my diagnosis, and her family mourns?
I fought back tears as I hugged my sister-in-law and her husband. I hung on each word as they explained his sister’s battle with leukemia. I walked out of the church and bit my lip. I barely knew this lady, yet we were kindred spirits through cancer. Family birthdays and anniversaries were the only time I had seen her. Buried deep in my own battle last summer, I had missed the news of her diagnosis. And yet I survive.
I’ve read a little about survivor’s guilt. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the emotions of seeing a cancer victim lifeless in a casket, while you stand with no evidence of disease.
As luck would have it, we were visiting my family that day. My walls crumbled briefly when I saw my sisters. A couple of big hugs and a few tears and I was through my first wave of survivor guilt.
Until there is a cure for cancer, I know it won’t be the last wave of guilt that will wash over me. While I am proud of the fight I’ve put up this past year, I still can’t help wonder every day I survive, “Why me and not them?”