Thursday, August 25, 2011

Loosing My Survivor Touchstone . . .

It has taken me over a month to find the strength to write this post. But I felt it important to share this with all of you. If you are a cancer survivor then you are probably all too familiar with survivor's guilt. You are also familiar with touchstone's I would guess. Well, I recently lost one of my close survivor touchstones and at the same time feeling lots of survivor's guilt. Then there is also tons of fear in the mix.

When I was diagnosed 10 years ago at the tender age of 31 there wasn't anyone I knew who had been through it. Well, except one person. It was my cousin who had been through it 2 years earlier. She was also in her early 30's with 2 kids at the time. The day I got the news she was one of the first calls I made. It meant so much to talk to someone who was family, and close to my age who had survived a mastectomy and grueling chemo that I was facing. Neither one of us ever thought about breast cancer. You see we don't have a history in our family on either side (our mother's are sisters).

We each handled the emotions differently but had similar treatments. I in NY was treated at Sloan-Kettering, and she in Houston was treated at MD Anderson both top cancer hospitals. She took tamoxifen and I opted not too. I have not had genetic testing and her results were negative. We both changed our diets and questioned environmental causes. I felt a bond with her as family but also as a fellow survivor. I always looked up to her growing up, she was 4 years older than me, so beautiful and kind.

I got a phone call from my mom a week before July 4th letting me know she was in the hospital. And it was bad. I was shocked. You see, I had no idea that her cancer came back 5 years ago. Nobody told me because my cousin didn't want me to worry. Still looking out for me as she did for everyone in her life. She passed away on July 5th. As I write these words I still feel such disbelief. My cousin did everything her doctors told her, even took tamoxifen, went for all her followup tests, made it 8 years before it came back. Here I am alive, healthy, and a 10 year survivor. I cannot help but feel guilty about that and yet at the same time fear for my own life. This feeling surfaced its ugly face when my dad passed from cancer 3 years ago and my sister-in-law passed 6 years ago also from cancer but is much stronger now because it much stronger now.

Next week I go for my annual mammogram and I cannot put into words the fear I am feeling. I know that it is partly from my cousin's death. She was a survivor touchstone for me. I am beginning to think that there has to be some big book up there with all of our arrival and exit dates etched in it somehow. I have to believe there is something more or I don't think I can keep moving forward and let go of the fear . . .

7 comments:

Christa Irell said...

Oh Cathy, I am so sorry to hear about your cousin. I can't even imagine how scared and sad you must feel.
Please try to stay positive- I believe that has so much power. And you seem to believe that too, you have been living joyfully, sharing your talent with the world through your art- and you have us, your online friends who love you and are here for you to lean on! Pour your worries into your work and let it go like that, rather than letting it eat at you. You can do it! And we can help. xo

hmuxo said...

Cathy...I am so sorry to hear about your cousin and for what you're going through now! Please stay strong, ..I know everything will be fine and I'm sending you a big hug and please know that when you want to talk we're all here for you!!!

Kristin said...

Cathy,
Maybe the best thing to learn from your cousin's passing is that it is the silent ones that often are in need of support. They are the ones who do not write books, blog and wear all the pink garb- much like your cousin. Since you are a writer, perhaps you should use your talent to share their stories.

Sherry Smyth said...

It rocks us in such a hard way...there is the guilt that it wasn't us and the sadness that it happened...and we know that at any point, any one of us could be that "one". Not telling you was your cousin's way of dealing with this -- knowing that by sharing it might frighten you and she was being protective. You love her for that. And if the shoe had been on the other foot, you would have done the same for her.

This breast cancer journey we walk is like a mine field. We're treading where we don't know but hoping we've got it right but the main thing...each journey is as individual as we are.

Sherry Smyth said...

As for Kristin's comment, while I am sure it is well intended...it isn't always the silent ones who are in need of support. Everyone of us deals with our diagnosis in our own way. For some that means not talking about it; for some it means sharing.

And while it might be possible for Cathy to write other people's stories, keep in mind, this has been Cathy's story and Cathy's journey.

I would also suspect that it might be very difficult to tell the stories of those who keep their thoughts to themselves, who don't write books and who don't wear pink garb. And then how do you determine exactly who those people are?

I don't wear pink garb and I haven't written a book. But I talk about my breast cancer with those I believe are interested or those who are starting the journey themselves.

As I said, well intentioned but I don't see that this was the forum to mention that.

WESTERHUS said...

Cathy! Just found your page since I am awaiting a diagnose for a lump I had i my thyroid and somehow stumbled in here. Had it taken away 4 days ago but might have to go through another surgery depending what it says... I am so sorry to hear about your cousin! I guess one of the hardest things except for the sorrow of loosing a close friend and relative is the sence of feeling that you did not know... But bear in mind that all people no matter what is responsible for how open they want to be to other people, family or friends... Some people might just feel better to keep it to themselves... and we can not do anything about it... I know you will be fine and I also know that in the coming years you will keep your cousin and her personality close to your heart! In the future, far far away, you will meet again... Take care and be well/Bella

Rory Mcclane said...

Nice work done by you and you deserve get Jesus Grace