Survivors’ Guilt

Writing and posting on social media about my third cancerversary and being cancer free led me to think about survivors’ guilt.

So many people who survive cancer when others don’t, are left with guilt. Why did I make it when they didn’t?

When I posted about my cancerversary, it made me wonder, how would those who have secondary cancer or an incurable cancer feel about the post? Should I be celebrating being in the clear when so many cannot?

The answer is, of course, I should.

It is worth celebrating still being here when the odds were not on my side, at least according to Dr Gloom. That I made it can give others in a similar situation hope. A gloomy prognosis doesn’t mean the worst is inevitable.

I also know that people in the cancer community, whether they are now cancer free or living with incurable cancer, celebrate every NED (No Evidence of Disease). Just as we mourn every life lost to cancer.

I have often thought about why I made it when others didn’t? I didn’t make it because I “fought” harder or wanted to survive more. Neither was it because I was brave.

I’m sure everyone who gets diagnosed wants to survive just as much. It is not a matter of putting up a better fight. I don’t see myself as braver than anybody else either.

When faced with cancer, you just do your best. You take it day by day and treatment by treatment.

But while I am no braver or a better “fighter” than anybody else, I consider myself blessed. I am luckier than some others.

I had – still have – amazing people around me. Family and friends who supported me every step of the way. On social media I found the cancer community, people who encouraged and inspired, people I could compare experiences with. Not everyone has such a strong support network around them.

I was lucky to have the best medical care one could hope for. The Royal Marsden is one of the best cancer hospitals in the world. I was lucky because all my treatments were free and I didn’t have to worry about how I would cover my medical bills. Also, I was lucky because my long career in teaching meant I had six months’ sick leave on full pay. When you don’t have to worry about money, you can spend your energy on getting better.

But not everyone has equal access to treatments. I recently wrote a piece on the inequalities of cancer care in response to a challenge on Vocal Media. It won me a runner-up price, which I’m very proud of. You can read it here.

I am luckier than some, but that is all.

Still, it doesn’t explain why I made it. I have made it a rule not to dwell on the question. Nobody knows why one person makes it and another one doesn’t. I would drive myself insane if I focused on the random injustice of who lives and who dies.

I believe that for reasons unknown to me I was meant to survive. That I am still here for a purpose.

So instead of dwelling on a question I will never find the answer to, I focus on still being here. On making every day count. Making every moment count. I focus on living my best life and hopefully give others hope and inspiration.

I want to make a difference in the lives of people affected by cancer. That is why, behind the scenes, we are working hard on our charity plans.

I want to prove myself worthy of another chance. Or third, if you consider the medical miracle of my birth when they rushed me into intensive care as soon as I had emerged from my mother’s womb.

I will not squander this chance. My survivors’ guilt won’t let me. I owe it to myself and those didn’t make it to make my life count.

A pupil I once taught called a day when we had PE a jackpot day. I love that thought of a jackpot day. I want to see every day as a jackpot day.

After all, I am still here, and that, to me, is the biggest jackpot of all.

Until next time, and as always, thank you for being here.

P.s. If you know anything about starting or running a charity, get in touch. We could use every bit of advice we can get!

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