Why I Feel Guilty After My Husband Survived Cancer

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One time, a few years ago, someone I loved had cancer.

He caught it the way most people do, unexpectedly and without warning. Just months before his diagnosis, I’d been the one in a hospital gown. He faithfully attended my prenatal appointments and then held my hand while I pushed a seven-pound baby into the world, changing our lives forever. Little did we know it would be one of two life-changing moments over the course of three months, because suddenly the roles reversed. Now cancer was growing in our house instead of my growing belly. He’d officially become a cancer patient, and I’d officially become the person at his side. The person they call wife but also caregiver; the person who could become a widow if everyone isn’t careful.

It’s hard these days to talk about his cancer. With time, you’d think it would become easier, but I’m finding the opposite to be true.

There’s this thing called survivor’s guilt — maybe you’ve heard of it? Survivor’s guilt is a mental condition where someone feels bad because they’ve survived a traumatic event when others did not. Survivor’s guilt can take on a lot of different forms, and people can feel it after walking away from a deadly car crash, making it home after war or even in something as simple as keeping your job during company wide layoffs.

My husband, Jonathan, had stage IV cancer, but even he experiences survivor’s guilt. I remember leaving chemotherapy with him one Friday, and he commented that he shouldn’t complain because his cancer was so treatable, and he was young.

A few months later I bought him a bold yellow shirt that said “survivor” across the front. He wore it once to please me and never put it on again. “Survivor,” in his mind, is nothing to tell the world about. He didn’t do anything to claim survivor status; his body just had a treatable cancer that happened to respond to drugs. He’d rather wear his Seattle Seahawks shirt than call any more attention to himself. His bald head and missing eyebrows had been enough of a conversation starter.

I feel guilty a lot these days, too. When I talk or write about cancer, I tell myself I have no place to do so. He is the one who had chest pain, not me. He is the one who saw the doctor’s concerned face, not me. He is the one with scars on his chest, not me. He is the one who actually, literally, survived, not me. I am, I was, simply the caregiver.

I showed up to chemotherapy with him, I made him mild dinners, I helped give him shots when he needed them and I accompanied him to the emergency room a few times. At the end of it all, he became a survivor, and I went back to being simply, wonderfully, his wife. He dodged death, and I dodged becoming a widow. I didn’t earn an official title, but I took back the one I’d been given on our wedding day. There’s no T-shirt to wear, not that I’d want one if there was.

But although my role as caregiver was supposed to be a temporary identity changer, I am forever marked by the dreaded, whispered six-letter word we fought together.

I may not have a shirt, but I wear “survivor” on my mind and heart. I survived in a different way. I survived the awkward “’What’s new with you?’ ‘Oh, my husband has cancer’” conversations. I survived being our family’s PR agent, managing communication with our friends and families and the pitied looks from strangers. I survived the what-ifs and the won’t-go-theres. I survived that terrible flight when he was throwing up in the security line while I juggled our luggage, baby, stroller and Christmas presents. I survived pumping breast milk in a tiny sterile doctor’s office while he received chemo outside the door. I survived the greatest scare of my life — that I might lose him.

I can’t describe to you exactly how it made his chest hurt, but I can tell you about that night we pulled off a freeway at 11 p.m. because he was in too much pain to drive. I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to think you might be dying, but I can tell you what it’s like to think about becoming a widow. I can’t explain the pain of a bone marrow biopsy, but I can tell you how white his knuckles got as the doctor screwed a huge needle into his back. Cancer never lived in my body, but pain sure did. My pain came from the watching and the waiting.

One time, a few years ago, someone I love had cancer. And it has forever changed me, too.

Follow this journey on Lesleym.com.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten or a mantra that spoke to you following your diagnosis?  Find out how to email us a story submission here.

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The Awesome Reason This Boy Is Dressing Up as Your Favorite Movie Characters

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Jack Churchman has been growing out his hair for two years, and he plans to donate his locks to the Western Australia Cancer Council. But the 9-year-old from Perth, Australia, wanted to do something a little more creative to help children with cancer, so he started dressing up as their favorite movie characters.

Jack’s mother, Suzannah Churchman, told Daily Mail Australia her son got the idea to help after spending time with children in his sister’s class who have cancer. “We’d see them off sick or unable to do things, and Jack asked if there was anything we could do and he came up with this idea,” Churchman told the website.

Jack told the website that his sister Daisy helps by making props and his mother does the hair and makeup. Jack takes requests from patrons donating more than $10, and every day he posts a new scene or character on his Facebook page. He’s done about 90 posters so far, and raised more than $5,000 for the Western Australia Cancer Council.

 

 

Be sure to check out more of Jack’s amazing images on his Facebook page and website.

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Bride's Family Portrait Honoring Her Late Son Is Heartbreakingly Beautiful

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Anna Bozman Thompson lost her son, Lake, in May to leukemia. He was just three weeks shy of his 9th birthday, according to the Prayers for Lake Bozman Facebook page.

Thompson recently married her longtime boyfriend, Travis Thompson, in Colbert, Georgia. The couple had put their wedding on hold for years to focus on Lake’s health, Fox News reported, although their wedding was something Lake had always wanted. Despite plans for the beautiful outdoor wedding, Thompson was not looking forward to the family photo portion of the big day — taking pictures without Lake would be understandably difficult for the grieving mother.

But Thompson’s friend, photographer Brandy Angel, not only photographed the wedding, but made sure Lake would have a way of being there. Angel worked with a man named Paul Woodward to photoshop Lake into the family portrait.

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Courtesy of Brandy Angel Photography

“Although my family will never be complete here on Earth, we will be in Heaven,” Thompson told Fox News. “I do know that ️Lake has been watching over us especially when we got married. He made sure that it would be a day that none of us would forget. Although I felt his presence that day and I was actually happy, it was almost unbearable to take family pictures without him.”

Now, when Thompson looks back at her big day, she’ll be able to see, and feel, Lake’s presence.

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10 Unexpected Ways a Cancer Diagnosis Can Have an Impact on Your Life

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A cancer diagnosis can be the scariest part of a person’s life, and yet, so many people have this amazing way of finding a silver lining in it all.

The Mighty teamed up with Inspire, an organization that builds and manages online support communities for patients and caregivers, to ask people about the unexpected ways a cancer diagnosis has had an impact on their lives.

Be a part of the discussion, and share your own experiences, on the original thread at Inspire.

Here’s what people had to say:

1. I have become closer to my family. I am sorry that it took cancer to realize what an amazing family I have, but now, everything has changed for the better. We laugh more, love more and live more. I know that I can count on my family to take care of me no matter what my issues. I feel so blessed.” — Krisalex

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2. “Cancer made me realize how short life is. I appreciate every day, don’t sweat the small, and get on with my bucket list. Cancer hasn’t slowed me down; it’s speeded me up.” — balihigh

3. “[Being] diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer 28 years ago has given me a mission in life. My mission is to give hope to those dealing with what I have experienced. I don’t think there is anything more rewarding. When a person gives to others, they then receive so much in return.” — Helenstandsforhope

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4. “It has enabled me to talk to someone who is sick and listen and be empathetic. It has caused me to be a cheerleader for all. I work with the public of which many are regular customers and never realized how many had breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, leukemia. It has made me more aware of others and their fights. I want them to know no matter what together we are better.” —  gram8

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5. “Mostly it has made my life from diagnosis forward a more thankful one. I appreciate what I have. I am more concerned about making memories than making money.” — frieds

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6. “I am now more grateful for the little things in life. My job isn’t my life anymore, I’ve moved back home to be closer to my family, and I have something to thank God for multiple times each day.”wildcatfan07

7. I have noticed I am less tolerant of rude, insensitive or bullying behaviors in my adult friends.” — mommoo65

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8. One way a cancer diagnosis has impacted my life is by making me realize that I want to marry and have kids with my boyfriend. Most of my life, I have been unsure of marriage… and even more unsure of kids. After my boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer, I realized part of me really hopes for a family with him. When my baby nephew was diagnosed with cancer two months after my boyfriend, that cancer diagnosis made me realize my strengths, especially in caring for others and being able to step up for loved ones when it mattered most.” — h0peful1

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9. “Being diagnosed with cancer gave me the strength I needed to recognize and eliminate the stressful, demanding and negative people from my life. I believe in the ‘power of positive thinking,’ and with the encouragement and support of my family and close friends, I know we will all make it through this scary journey one step at a time. I also notice and appreciate many simple things that I’ve taken for granted for way too long – like the smell of rain, the sound of birds chirping, a soft breeze, laughter, and so much more.” —LillianG

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10. “A cancer diagnosis has given me the ability to reevaluate my entire life. I can now say no with conviction and no guilt. I no longer spend time on projects, causes, charities or troublesome people out of pure inertia or pure obligation… I spend quality time with my husband and family now. I enjoy the little things in life every day. This may be reading a few pages in a borrowed book, filling the bird feeder or calling a friend. All wonderful. I never thought a cancer diagnosis could have a silver lining — for me it has. I am now living my life, not just passing through it.” —  Carolsmith-Illinois

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*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity 

Be a part of the discussion, and share your own experiences, on the original thread at Inspire.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself in regards to a cancer diagnosis. What would you say or wish someone had told you? Find out how to email us a story submission here.

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My Daughter's Cancer Doesn’t End When She Looks ‘Well’ Again

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Our 9-year-old daughter, Quinn, finished her cancer treatment a year ago. My husband and I are excited to attend her class assembly at school. Back to some normality. Familiar ground. Our comfort zone. We stroll through the school grounds together, holding hands like sweethearts and enjoying the mild sun of early summer. Other parents smile and wave with promises of a catch up afterwards.

We take our seats at the rear of the hall in happy, amicable silence as the school children start to pour in.

The children.

The able-bodied children.

The healthy, able-bodied children.

The innocent, healthy, able-bodied children.

The cancer-free, innocent, healthy, able-bodied children.

I can feel the beating of my heart as it revs up a notch. My breathing takes the cue and starts to compete for speed. A single bloated tear rolls languidly down my cheek. I discretely slip my sunglasses on and accidentally activate the free flow tear control.

My heart continues to pulse at a startling pace. At a glance I could appear to be in labor as I begin to pant for breath.

The children.

The children.

The cancer-free, innocent, healthy, able-bodied children.

I feel tormented by their presence, by their mere existence.

A rare question spits out of my tumultuous mind with burning fury: Why my child?

I can hardly breathe. It’s just short, shallow gulps. Tears drizzle down my face, and my chest burns from the staccato rhythm it has been playing.

I gasp to my husband that I have to get out. Have to leave. I stumble out of the hall, leaving him in confused pursuit.

He holds me in his arms, and I moan with the physical and mental agony that has been evoked. He offers to drive me home, but I tell him he can’t. Quinn would be so disappointed if we both left.

I start the walk home. One foot in front of the other. Left. Right. Left. Right. I consciously take slow, deep breaths that I hold as long as possible before release. In. Hold. Out. In. Hold. Out. In. Hold. Out. I start to calm with the meditative regimentation of my stride.

I lie on the bed feeling drained, depressed and embarrassed. My breathing and heart rate reaches status quo. But not my mind.

Damn you, panic attack, for blindsiding me.

My daughter’s cancer doesn’t end when she leaves hospital.

My daughter’s cancer doesn’t end when her bald head sprouts hair.

My daughter’s cancer doesn’t end when the feeding tubes are removed.

Childhood cancer doesn’t end when she looks “well” again.

An excerpt from my book in progress, “Quinn’s Quest: Behind Closed Doors.”

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Follow this journey on Facebook at Quinn’s Quest.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten or a mantra that spoke to you following your diagnosis?  Find out how to email us a story submission here.

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What This Cancer Survivor Is Doing to Make Life Better for Disabled Animals

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Jenny Brown found comfort in a somewhat unlikely source while facing bone cancer as a child and subsequently losing the lower half of her right leg. Her cat Boogie stayed by her side.

Over the last decade, Brown’s found a way to give back to hundreds of animals who needed a helping hand of their own. She founded the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary 11 years ago with just a few chickens, and the organization has become so successful in rehabilitating and caring for disabled animals that they’ve recently expanded to a 150-acre camp in High Falls, New York. Brown documented the relocation in a short film, “She Was There For Me: The Story of Jenny Brown & Woodstock Farm Sanctuary,” and she also explains why the creatures hold such a special place in her heart.

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary

Brown was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was just 10 years old; doctors amputated her leg to keep the cancer from spreading, and she underwent a number of grueling chemotherapy sessions. Brown credits Boogie for helping her cope, as well as giving her a new perspective on how we view animals.

“She would come and crawl up on my lap and lick my tears,” Brown says in the video. “And it wasn’t one or two occasions — that was the norm for her. She was the catalyst for a different way of thinking. She really did change my life. She changed how I viewed animals and made me realize that they have thoughts, feelings and emotions. They’re self-aware and they’re not here to do with what we please.”

“I’ve been through something other people haven’t been through and it made me stronger,” Brown adds. “I think Boogie, my cat, she’s the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
Woodstock Farm Sanctuary

The Woodstock Farm Sanctuary provides shelter to cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, sheep, goats and rabbits who’ve been “rescued from cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment,” according to its website.

“For the first time in their lives, animals who have only known fear, isolation and suffering now enjoy warm and clean barns, nourishing food, veterinary care and love,” Brown says in the video below.

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
Woodstock Farm Sanctuary

Be sure to watch “She Was There For Me: The Story of Jenny Brown & Woodstock Farm Sanctuary” below, and visit the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary’s website to learn more about the organization.

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