It’s been 3 months since I became a breast cancer survivor. Things started to calm down a little and chemo brain lessened its hold. I graduated to seeing my oncologist every three months instead of every two weeks. I am seeing my specialists less and less and in a sense, life is restarting. Now more than ever, the mental struggle has begun. It is what so many others experience if they are fortunate enough to make it through to the other side like I did: survivor’s guilt.
Often, I wonder why I was fortunate enough to survive breast cancer. I think about how lucky I am to live another year when I was not sure I would. How lucky I was to survive almost dying a few times during my treatment. Why did my cancer respond better to treatment than for other people that I know? Why do I get to live when others didn’t?
In many ways, I was very lucky. Finding my cancer was totally accidental and not something even remotely on my radar. Sure, my cancer was a grade three tumor (the worst and most aggressive kind to have) and it grew crazy fast from its discovery until I started AC chemo (also known as the red devil). The worst my cancer ever became was Stage 2B and by the time I had surgery, it had reduced down to Stage 1A. I never had any lymph node involvement nor did my cancer metastasize.
However, I did experience very rare complications that almost killed me. I always tell people the chemo would kill me long before the cancer would. I ended up in the hospital 5 times within a span of two months, 2 of the visits requiring being admitted for days at a time. I experienced extreme chemo-induced nausea, dehydration, and vomiting that was so horrific I could barely function. To stop all these reactions, I was given a medication that I know causes me to go into anaphylaxis. That was a terrifying experience.
Twice, I ended up being neutropenic and one of those times showed signs of infection, though that later was ruled out. A few weeks later, I was back in the hospital after my resting heart rate was between 150-170 bpm and I labored to breathe. I soon learned that I had a pulmonary embolism and the blood clot had just entered the bottom chamber of my lung. It was caught just in time and almost too late. Had I waited, I would have likely died from either a heart attack or stroke. I had to be injected with blood thinners for quite some time and still am on a blood thinner medication.
The worst experience, and one that I have written about previously in the days after it happened, was going into anaphylaxis during my taxol chemo treatment. Feeling my life leave my body so quickly was a terrifying yet calming experience. It made me not fear dying any longer and made me able to push through each treatment, even though I knew it might happen again.
Yet with all those experiences, somehow, someway, I survived. Not everybody gets that lucky. And for that, I often feel incredibly guilty. Why do I get to live on when others don’t?
Recently, somebody I knew from chemo with stage 4 cancer passed away. He was even younger than me. We bonded over our shared birthday – both in January on the same date, although 7 years apart. I remember how bright of a soul he was and was shaken when I learned of his passing. It is a reminder of the grim reality of cancer and that not all of us make it through.
Friday is my 3 months follow up with my oncologist. The days prior to these appointments begin to make me anxious and not knowing what to fully expect. I have been told previously that when you are as young as I am and have a cancer as aggressive as mine, the reoccurrence rate is much higher. I live knowing that possibly is present everyday. Often, this cancer can come back with a vengeance. I can only hope that won’t be the case for me.
Regardless of what happens next, nothing can take away the fact that I made it 3 months, cancer free.
Thanks for sharing this perspective…