Today, the 3rd of October, is the 17th anniversary of my being diagnosed with a brain tumour. This means that I have now lived as long with this brain tumour as I had lived unaware of it.
Even though I know that I am incredibly blessed to have lived for these 17 years with this brain tumour, the effect of survivor guilt cannot be dismissed.
I have seen mothers with several young children die of cancer, young fathers with unborn babies they will never see, infants being diagnosed and dead within a year. Then my surviving 17 years with no one depending on me, no one needing me as their role model.
I have seen innocent young children, men and women who have their whole lives ahead of them, lose their battle - and yet I have kept on going. It doesn’t make any sense, but then cancer doesn’t.
None of these people deserved to be struck down with cancer, or deserved punishment. Sometimes, I believe, we do reap what we sow, but I do not believe that cancer is some higher being’s way of punishing us.
Cancer isn’t selective. It does not take into account socio-economic status, nor the amount in your pay cheque, nor how high your status in society is.
Grandparents, mothers, fathers, teenagers, children, criminals, priests, smokers, non-smokers, meat-eaters, vegans – nobody is immune to getting cancer. Nearly everyone knows someone who has been affected by it.
It is not as though I have done anything that makes me any more deserving of life than anyone else that is the reason that I have survived for this amount of time.
Even though I feel incredibly blessed to be alive, I have had to suffer and merely ‘exist’ for very long periods of time.
I couldn’t influence or change what has happened because of the tumour’s location and nature over these past 16 years, but what I have been able to control is what I do with what I have learnt through these experiences, and how I let it influence my daily life now. This is my choice. No one chooses to get cancer but we all choose how we deal with it and what we do in spite of it.
Do we become bitter, holding a grudge against the rest of the healthy world? Or do we choose to continually forgive others? Do we become consumed with anger, or choose to live in freedom?
It all comes down to whether or not we want to truly live every day of the rest of our lives, be that six weeks, six months or 60 years. The reality is that no one actually knows when they are going to die, but we can all choose how we live. Tragically, too many people don’t realise this.
I think that for everyone, but especially cancer patients, it comes down to learning to live ‘in the now’. Not living with one foot in the past, with regret and anger. Nor living with one foot in the future, fearing what you may yet have to suffer, or living in dread of the cancer growing, spreading, or for some, returning. But rather living with both feet ‘in the now,’ being grateful for each and every day.
Taking steps, even though they may be very small steps, towards a hope-FULL future has been a big thing for me. Even though these steps have at times been very small and at snail’s pace, more important is the fact that they are all heading in one direction - forwards.
Daily we all have to choose whether or not we really want to live for that day, and for the rest of our lives.
I feel incredibly blessed in that I have been taught this reality young and look forward to the many days and years ahead.