Survivor guilt is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.
We all know the statistics. One in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. My best friend, my best friend's mom, my sister-in-law, my mother-in-law, me..... that's more than one in eight for me. Scary, huh? My mother-in-law and my BFF's mom have both passed away. My BFF, my sis-in-law, me? We're all doing good. Alive and well. What's the difference? How does fate decide who gets a pass?
You're probably thinking age is a factor. And maybe you're partly right. Someone in their 60s or 70s is not going to be as strong or as healthy as someone half their age, so maybe their body can't fight cancer as well. But you know what? Cancer doesn't always discriminate. Or only pick on the old, frail and weak.
For three years I've belonged to a support group for breast cancer survivors - Ciao Bellas. My lovely friend D invited me when I was just starting my journey, and I'm forever grateful for the support I've received from these wonderful ladies. My lovely Bellas were dealt a tough hand this week. We lost not one but two of our friends. Lorie was 42 years old. Vanessa was only 32.
I never got the chance to meet either of them in person, but I got to know them through other women who did. Every Bella has been in the same trenches at one time or another. Some are thriving years after diagnosis. Some are just beginning their fight. We all have the same goal - to live. To know that not one but two young ladies, younger than me, were taken way too soon by the same disease I'm surviving is a big blow.
I know people die from cancer every day. It's why the words "you have cancer" are so terrifying. It may not be the automatic death sentence it used to be, but it can be. For Lorie, and for Vanessa, it was. My heart aches for their families... for the people who loved these women. Vanessa has an eight year old little girl. Can you imagine? I look at my daughter, just two years older than that, and my heart freezes in fear.
I don't think I necessarily have survivor guilt. It's not a contest. We are all in it to win. Nobody loses when someone wins the fight against cancer (except cancer!). But I won't lie and say I don't ask "why her and not me" when something like this happens. It could very easily be me. I know many, many breast cancer survivors. That is amazing. And wonderful. But the fact that there are people connected to me who did not survive is a crushing blow. And it reignites the fear that is always lurking.
The best way I know to pay tribute to the amazing women who were taken too soon is to embrace my survivorship. Cherish every day. Count my blessings. Take care of myself. Appreciate life. Know that each day is a gift.
And pray for the ones who loved those we've lost.
To Lorie, and to Vanessa.....God bless you, Bellas.