Friday, 31 May 2013

Survivor's Guilt

In early May I phoned my grandma to let her know the good news about my MRI, and the fact that it was NED. Grandma Anita was happy to hear it from me, but she wasn't surprised -- she said she knew, as she had known all along that I would be alright.

A few days later she passed away, at the age of 93.

I had to fly overseas for her funeral, to be there for her, for my sisters, for my mother. For me.  I had to find my way back to my beginning so I could say goodbye. I wondered about her words, about that last conversation; my grandma was a believer, her faith strong. She never really pushed me to believe in one thing in specific, as long as I believed in something. Faith, she often reminded us, saw us through the worst moments in our lives. I'm pretty sure she stuck around until she felt that I would be okay.

Truth is I hadn't traveled much since my MOAS. I was afraid to. What would happen if I ended up with a bathroom emergency? Or if I had an obstruction or some sort of other issue? The what ifs that never held me back before suddenly had me frozen in place. And then Granny Anita passed away, and I didn't even think twice - I was on a plane to see her off,  I was coming back to her.

My grandma practically raised us when we were little. She taught me to LIVE - not just to function but to live, to seek out the things that made me happy and pursue my dreams wherever they may take me.  She encouraged me to fly, even if it took me further away from her and her own life. Her legacy for me was that fearlessness and that faith, and I hope to instill those in my son. It took her passing for me to remember that side of me, and honour those lessons.

The funeral and the memorial were hard. A thousand people to hug, and words to give and take in. A million exchanges, touches, wishes. At the memorial, as we sat and talked about the wonder that was her life my mother noted that she couldn't be there for her mom on the last day, because for all last year she had been looking after her own daughter's life, and the chance she might leave her own grandson without a mom.

I felt thrown under the bus, as everyone's eyes turned to me. Some knew about my battle with PMP, other's didn't. But suddenly there was the weight of their curiosity and a wave of guilt I hadn't felt before. I lived, and she did not. That same week one of my friends from the PMP support group also passed away and while the guilt felt different it had the same familiar ache - why am I here, when others have passed on? Should I feel guilty that I have stuck around, when PMP and other things have claimed other daughters, other mothers, other friends?

No. No, I shouldn't. I know that.  I know that my survival isn't at their expense. And yet there is always that ache, in being one left standing. When people say someone lost their battle with cancer I can't help but to think about the people I have known throughout this journey - no, they didn't lose. They went down kicking and biting, and left a legacy with their courage, their dignity, the sum of their lives' work.

Cancer changes you and your family. Sometimes it makes you stronger, sometimes things fall apart. Whichever way life pulls, it is never the same.  I can look ahead  a bit now... I make plans for the next six months, until the next MRI and whatever it holds. But I am not the person that I was before this, and I will never be that person again. That's okay.  Whomever I become now, however my family changes and adapts to this new 'us', we'll find a way to make it through.

I am still grieving for the siblings I won't give Aiden, for the expectations of a future life that may not come to pass, for the friends I've lost along the way... but I'm done feeling guilty. I love this life. I love my life, I love my boys, I love my sisters, and my parents, and my friends. I love my art, I love plants, I love food, and music, and dance. I love living it with no regrets. There are things though, that clearly I am not done processing yet. I am not sure how long it will take to do so, and I am not sure that I can do it on my own. Perhaps its time to look into counseling, so that I can best figure out where to go from here.

One day at a time- my grandma taught me that.


  1. I was sorry to hear about your grandma, she sounds very special.

    We're all overjoyed that you stuck around and I'm sure everyone would argue against the guilt you naturally feel. ;) I know you'll tackle all the new challenges you'll face in the same indomitable way.

  2. Hi Apis:

    I am very happy to hear that you are doing so well. I am sad to hear that your grandmother passed away, but it was her time, not yours. She had a long, full life and that is much to be thankful for. I hope you are enjoying the beautiful weather we are currently experiencing. I would love to see you and your boys. You haven't been to our new place (we've been here 2 years) and it would be great to have you over. We are going to the UK on June 22nd for Claire's graduation. Other than that, we're around most of the summer. Hope to see you soon.

  3. Apis

    Anita was a fighter and she taught you to fight! You are a survivor (even before this cancer battle) and should never feel bad about that. Live to the fullest and remember to enjoy EVERY SECOND for you and for those who are not here with us. Cancer has changed you and us... but for the better in some ways... we are better people because of you. We are stronger as a family, our love is deeper and our commitment to each other is also. I love you and having you in my life. And I am better human being because of you. No question.

    Aiden is lucky to have you and your teachings. He has his cousins and his aunties who ADORE him. He also has the best parents in the world. As for what comes next? I don’t know. I wish I did but I don’t. But I do know that we can face it together. We discussed planning ahead and like I told you after all this I don’t believe in planning but in “organized dreaming.” I will dream and try to make things happen... and we can dream together. I just want to try and enjoy every day and be as happy as possible.

    Anita’s death and losing some friends will bring some sadness, fear and doubts I am sure. And it never hurts to talk about it. Now that you are healing physically it could also be a good time to heal emotionally.... this could be a long process but it’s good to start it. And I will always be here to help you through it.

    I ADORE YOU!!!