Survivor guilt

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?”


Empty bags

It used to be that I multi-tasked with the best of them, juggling several projects outside of work, numerous ongoing, work-related projects, and family. I sorted my life into bags with each aspect stuffed into a different bag so all I needed was to grab the appropriate bag(s) and I would be set for the day.

Now multi-tasking tires me – the thought of it tires me. I’ve wrestled with the little voice that shouts lazy, no ambition, sloth. I’ve battled with the demon that doesn’t care about things I once sought with passion. I’ve emptied bags as I simplified my life wondering if they will be filled again.

But the truth is, there are times I don’t mind the singularity of doing one task at a time. I’ve come to enjoy nothingness and rest, yet I wonder if this is the new reality or just a blimp on the radar that will move out with the next front. And when it moves out, will I be able to multi-task again? Will I want to?

When I struggle through treatment side effects where simple concentration is a monumental task, I wonder if clarity will return. It’s no wonder a single task is the best I can do when my brain feels shrouded in fog.

I can’t imagine my pride would ever allow me to become lazy, however, I have welcomed the empty bags. They were getting too heavy to carry much longer.

There is beauty in singularity. I’m enjoying the peace that comes with added simplicity. The only thing I would like to fill those bags with are memories and priceless moments with those close to me. Those bags will never be too heavy to carry.