As of September 28, 2019, I will be a 7 year cancer Survivor.
It is time to Celebrate Life.
My heart breaks that so many cannot celebrate their life here, because they have won their final battle with cancer and are now at peace, resting high on that mountain. Yes, I can be thankful they no longer suffer, no longer have to know the daily fight of pain, and that they know the blessedness of eternal joy & rest. However, my heart hurts for all that they are missing here with their families and their friends. Most of all, what their families and friends are missing - them.
I have struggled greatly with survivor guilt over having survived, when so many have not. Family & friends. Friends of family. Family of friends. Many I never had the honor of meeting and knowing in this life, but hearing their stories of remembrance & love - my heart aches for the ones left behind to face a life of grief walking. As a widow, I know first hand that grief walking is one of the hardest walks of all.
Because of those left here, with respect to their grief, I have been more quiet than not about my cancer fight. Part of me has been almost ashamed that I fought and won, that I have continued to live.
The first 3 years of surviving I rejoiced and we celebrated the 2nd life I had been given. Then Rick died.
And one question tormented me day and night - "Why did I survive cancer, when Rick did not survive kidney disease?" I have wrestled with this question. Exhausted myself with tears. Suffered many nightmares that would not dissolve with the break of day.
I have now decided to face this Survivor Guilt. In hopes that it will help me to move another step forward in this grief walk, living life as Rick's widow. Also, hoping that by being brutally honest (out of my comfort zone again, Rick) perhaps someone else will find hope, encouragement and strength to walk forward as well.
Cancer survivors can (and do!) experience this guilt. In some ways, having cancer is like being in a war zone. And for that reason alone, many oncologists now argue that most cancer survivors have some degree of PTSD. The enemy is not another group of men, or another country. Rather, a large army of cancer cells within the body. A hidden enemy. One that we do not know when, or where, they will strike next.
*I have come to realize that the first step in coping with survivor's guilt is to acknowledge that my feelings are present and REAL. There is NOTHING wrong with feeling the way I do. In fact, it is just another sign that I am an empathetic, truly caring about those around me.
*I am learning to put words to my feelings, helping me to understand where the emotions are originating from, and allowing me to address them in a more positive way.
I did survive. For whatever reason. For whatever purpose. I survived. Others did not. Rick did not.
I survived the most aggressive form of uterine cancer.
According to what my oncologist, Dr. Frumovitz, and my gynecologist, Dr. Tris, told me - I actually faced close death 3 times.
(1) Having bled out so much in the months prior to diagnosis (from April 1 to August 9, without stopping), my blood count was at 4.5 early in August. It should have been at least a 12. We were told, as I lay there watching the blood transfusion take place, that had we continued on with Rick's work, in which we would have left Sulphur Springs TX and gone to El Paso TX for 10 days on the truck, that I would not have survived the trip. Sobering thoughts to consider Rick having to have my body brought back home.
(2) After diagnosis, during the major surgery to remove the cancer from my body, I bled out. I received 8 units of blood during surgery. Dr. Frumovitz said it had been "touch and go" there for a bit.
(3) Once the path report came back - Stage 2 Uterine cancer, level 1 - Dr. Frumovitz and Dr. Tris told us the most sobering news. Without surgery I would have had no more than 6 months to live, and death would have been the most excruciating pain ever known to a cancer victim. The most aggressive form of Uterine Cancer.
But I survived it all. Thank you Dr. Tobin for caring enough to check me out, even though Ricky Lee was your patient. Thank you Dr. Tris for caring enough to do a D&C even though I did not have insurance. Thank you Dr. Tris for donating your time and your expertise to caring for me, you were even willing to do the major cancer surgery at no charge if you could not get me into MD Anderson. Thank you Dr. Tris for working so tirelessly to get me admitted to MD Anderson. Thank you Dr. Frumovitz for caring deeply for a scared little girl trapped in a grown-ass woman's body. I will always remember the smile and the wink you gave me as you yourself rolled me into surgery. You said, "You are too precious to me to allow anyone else to take you into this room." Thank you each one for all that you did for me - for giving me a 2nd life.
There is much more to my cancer walk, but that will be for another blog.
This one is for moving forward.
Discussing Survivor Guilt.
And leading to the celebration of LIFE that I have every right to experience.
I talked with three very good friends yesterday, Barbara, Kathy & then Larry. I would like to share what they had to say - -
From Barbara: "We should celebrate all God's victories. You should never feel any guilt that you received a gift from God. Isn't that the purpose? To celebrate the victories he provides? I think you would be dishonoring Him if you didn't celebrate. But that's just me."
My response to her: "My heart hurts that so many others have not survived. But I know that me surviving did not take away theirs ... maybe I just need to stop thinking."
I love Barbara. No bullshit Texas girl. And I needed this from her: "Now you listen to me. God blessed you with life, not once but TWICE. And those who didn't survive, have nothing to do with you. You don't get to take their Glory from them that God delivered them home. Their journeys were not yours. But you do them a disservice by feeling bad that they are sitting with their Lord and Savior. The only way you dishonor them is by NOT enjoying the gift you were given and the burden of living your best life for those who were called home. Don't make me come over there and smack you."
Wow. Thank you Barbara! I have always loved you ... love you more now!
From Larry, when I asked him what he thought about me celebrating life, when so many others cannot: "Of course you should. ABSOLUTELY. I do understand the survivors guilt. I should be dead. But what you do not understand is the blessing you are to others. Where would your children be without their mother. What would your friends do without you. Now you have a friend like me. CELEBRATE. Love you"
And from Kathy: That's why you celebrate. It doesn't diminish what happened to them ..its a celebration for you that's all. I love you. And I for 1 am glad you did survive it. you have become so precious to me."
My soul will ache for the arms of my own husband to wrap me in his love.
My ears will continue to strain to hear my husband's voice saying, "I love you. You got this girl. You done good."
Life goes on. Forward. One moment at a time. One day followed by night. A cycle of LIFE, of LAUGHTER, of LOVE.
You might wonder why an elephant for being a Survivor of Cancer.
Well, I wondered that, too.
Then I found this:
Why an elephant for a Cancer Survivor?
The elephant is a symbol of unmatched strength.
With grace carries energies of patience, wisdom and meditation.
A queen of authority.
Herds are always led by females. Matriarchal societies.
Others watch her movements and follow her lead. Knowing she knows the way to precious reserves when resources are scarce.
Wisdom; remembers everything; vast stores of wisdom & experiences passed down from elders.
Ponders & meditates. Allows ancestral knowledge to guide.
Physical strength and endurance is tremendous.
Knows own strength and confidently walks forward.
Thinking things through to all possible conclusions, even to being considered as “over-thinking”.
Remembers a threat and stays on guard.
Ability to know if friend or foe within moments.
Bringing happiness, joy and sustenance to mind, body, spirit & soul.
Inspiration to be strong & patient no matter what life is throwing.
So, Xena will be joining my Graizie (a Holstein cow that Rick bought me many years ago) as a source of strength, comfort, and laughter for me. We shall live this life as an adventure. No matter what anyone thinks or says! Lol
I am taking a page from another Cancer Survivor's story, and I will be sharing pictures of Xena as we walk through all of this. Who knows, Graizie may photo bomb ever so often.
I pray for the strength, the courage, the wisdom, to live, to laugh, and to love - wisely.