Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What survivorship means to me...

Late last week (early this week - sometime late May early June) was National Survivors Day. Its theoretically a day sponsored by Eli Lilly (I think) to 'honor' cancer survivors. Since I didn't get any recognition or recompense from a drug company (or anyone save my friends & family), I didn't really pay much attention to it. However, I've lately been browsing other cancer (typically breast cancer survivors) blogs. Many of the blogs I've browsed have been anti-survivor - not that they hate themselves, but that they hate the label of survivor. I understand to a degree. Afterall, I really didn't do anything special or heroic to survive - I took the best course of action presented to me & happened to live through it (by the grace of God). I don't feel like I'm on par with a woman who survived a brutal attempted homicide or someone who technically died for moments only to return to life. Nor did I scale a mountain by brute force alone (with only one arm?) or win some athletic award. No, I was blessed by God to be one of 2 survivors in at least 5 generations of breast/ovarian cancer victims. Having a wonderful medical team didn't hurt either (another of God's blessings).

I think what these other bloggers are trying to convey is that they did nothing special to survive that those that die from this horrible disease did *not* do. People die from cancer all the time. It is only God's will that keeps us alive, but it is also His will that makes something beautiful and inspirational out of our journeys. My grandmother (nana) was not less of a survivor because after 5 years of fighting she succumbed to the disease. No, she was a wonderful model of fighting until the bitter end, but never becoming bitter. She was an example (to me & others) to fight, but know when God's calling you home. Her suffering was traumatic for me (and I'm sure her & the rest of my family), however, it was also cleansing and poignant. I don't mean to get saccreligious, but like Jesus, she finally commended her spirit to God when her entire family (including our family-friend-priest) surrounded her bed after speaking individually to her. I am not better than my nana because I survived. However, what I am is a *living* witness to the wonders of God's creation. Not only did I fight this horrible disease, I also bore a beautiful and healthy child during my battle. Not only did I win the physical battle, I also (for the most part) won the emotional and spiritual battle that *is* cancer. I am *still* fighting that emotional & spiritual battle.

I try not to play the 'cancer-card' very often, but in a way I feel that I do deserve something for fighting as I did and striving to be the best example to others that I can be. We all carry our own crosses. We all have sufferings in our lives. Sometimes it is hard to see other's sufferings, but trust me they are there. Even those who look completely 'put-together' fight their own inner battles. Again, I'm not any better than any one else with inner battles - at heart we are all 'survivors' of the traumas that are our lives. However, my battle with a physical disease is more obvious and apparently more inspirational than the 'normal' battles we each do every day.

I also acknowledge that while I'm a survivor, I am also *still* a fighter. I am still burdened by the uncertainty of relapse. I am still burdened with the side-effects of treatment both from chemotherapy as well as the various surgeries I had. I am still reminded (emotionally & spiritually) every day that I have lost a part of my self even while I gained a different perspective. Merely being alive does not make me a survivor, in my opinion. What makes me a survivor (and what survivorship means to me) is that I can acknowledge not only my own struggles, but also those of others. That I not only acknowledge these struggles, but fight to rise above them. That I not only fight to rise above them, but that I use all my might to present them to God (and others) as hidden gifts. The sufferings we all go through *do* make us stronger if we let them. That I've been through so much in such a short-time-span gives me a little bit of a heads-up over those with 'easy' lives sometimes. I can see the beauty in the moment more like someone of an older generation, but still boast (sometimes) the energy of the younger generation.

Don't get me wrong. There are countless times (a day sometimes) that I curse the scourge of breast cancer (or any other disease, disaster, crime, etc). As I struggle with my failing memory caused by chemotherapy I curse the cancer that caused me to turn to chemotherapy. While I struggle with decreased sensation in my fingers & toes caused by chemo, I again curse the cancer that caused chemo to be my 'best' choice. As my shoulders, back, neck, & chest ache from the unnatural presence of implants on my chest, I curse the cancer that caused me to choose self-mutilation over death. Waves of heat pass through me during my hot-flashes accompanied by panic attacks and again I curse the cancer-fear that caused me to self-mutilate myself by removing my ovaries. However, my very ability to curse the cancer and fear it generates is also cause for rejoicing. Without making these hard choices I would most likely be dead. I would be beyond suffering, but also beyond the joys of this earth. I wouldn't be able to cradle Rachel's head as she sleeps. Simon's funny sayings wouldn't echo in my mind. Andrew's loving touches wouldn't kindle my love for him. I wouldn't be able to participate in family functions with all their noise and joy amid confusion and chaos. Spiritually I know that I'd (with God's grace) be in God's presence & not miss these earthly pleasures. However, physically I fight for the ability to enjoy these earthly pleasures even while suffering from earthly torments.

All in all, survivorship to me is not simply being alive - suvivorship is being alive while learning and letting others learn from your struggles. That is the difficulty and the pride of survivorship. Not simply surviving a disease, disaster, or crime, but learning and allowing others to learn from your struggles is the point. That is what makes survivors laudable. Even those who only survive for a 'short' period (we're all going to die eventually) can give us lessons through their struggles. I pray that you (and I) can accept our crosses with joyful hearts and look beyond the suffering to see God's blessings.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous6/08/2011

    Awesome!

    ReplyDelete
  2. beautifully written, Erika!

    ReplyDelete

My Chemo-Jane hair-style

My Chemo-Jane hair-style
I just had to have my mom buzz my hair because it was falling out so badly.

Pre-op wearing my hand-crocheted cap with my prayer shawl.

Pre-op wearing my hand-crocheted cap with my prayer shawl.
My loving husband is watching me distract myself with a game on his iPhone.

2 days after my BMX w/ 100ccs in the TEs

2 days after my BMX w/ 100ccs in the TEs
I even have a fashionable belt to hold up my drains.

3 weeks post-op w/ 400ccs in each TE

3 weeks post-op w/ 400ccs in each TE
The smile is fake because the TEs were irritating!