It’s My Cancerversary…And I Don’t Feel Like Celebrating


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After 4 breast cancers since 1988, I’ve lost track of the usual markers of cancerversaries. I can remember month and year of diagnoses but can no longer keep specific dates in my head. Also, there is confusion about what date to use for 3 of my cancers where the words and behavior of mammogram technicians and doctors resulted in my”knowing” I had cancer before the official biopsy results were in.

In any event, February 1988 marked my first breast cancer diagnosis at 29. That makes it 27 years of “living on borrowed time” as that first cancer was caught by me through a fluke of accidentally touching the right place at the right time and following up immediately with my doctor. Had it not been for the accidental touch, the tumor would have continued to grow and may well have spread into Stage 4 cancer.

Last year, I was very excited about making it to 26 years since first diagnosis. Maybe part of what makes me uneasy about claiming 27 years of survival is that I had a total of 4 breast cancers during this period. Other people seem to count their survival status as cancer free time and start counting again from zero once they have had a recurrence. If that is the “right” way to do things, I guess I am only a 3.5 year survivor as my last breast cancer was in July, 2011. Do people think I am a fraud claiming 27 years of survivorship when many of those years were spent in treatment for new primary cancers and recurrences? I am always careful to say 27 years from first diagnosis so I don’t think I am misleading anyone.

What really has me bothered this year is that for the last 6 weeks or so, my Facebook feed has been filled by the deaths of so many young breast cancer patients. It seems every 2 or 3 days, someone from one of my Facebook groups has passed on, leaving a young family behind.

This year I felt uncomfortable announcing 27 years of survival from first diagnosis under the circumstances of all the surrounding death in the air. Some people say they draw hope from my longevity, particularly in light of the multiple bouts of triple negative cancer, my BRCA1 status, and my lack of what would now be considered optimal treatment for someone with my history.

On the other hand, I don’t doubt that it strikes resentment in some people’s hearts that I continue to live despite all the odds stacked against me while others die shortly after diagnosis or after being told their prognosis was excellent as their cancer was detected early, they received aggressive treatment, and they were BRCA negative.  Announcing 27 years of longevity in this atmosphere, seems a bit like bragging or gloating, which is the last thing I want to do. I have no idea why I am still alive considering all the cards stacked against me. All I can do is get philosophical and say this just isn’t my time to die. I have no secrets for longevity or avoiding Mets and we all know I have no secrets for avoiding recurrences!

Along with the tragic death announcements, there has been an increase in the  amount of posts from women speculating on what caused their cancer and what they can do to prevent a recurrence. I have no answers for either causation or prevention. I have said before that cancer seems pretty random to me striking both triathlete vegans and self-admitted couch potatoes and everyone in between. I have yet to see a strong pattern or have an aha moment where all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place for me. The same goes for recurrences and metastasis. Those who radically change their eating habits and make other lifestyle changes seem as likely to have their cancer come back as a recurrence or a metastasis as do those who change very little. After 27 years of watching cancer prevention tips come and go and sometimes be turned completely around (I just read that high doses of soy are good for preventing cancer after 20 years of it being cited as a cancer promotor), I personally have little faith in these promises of prevention or a cure.

Along with the string of deaths, there seem to be an unusually high number of women experiencing either local recurrences or Mets. The combination of the deaths and the disease progression have created high levels of anxiety in the support groups. You start to wonder if you are next in line for some cancer catastrophe to strike your life. This probably explains all the comments about cancer causation and prevention.

I want to feel good about my 27 years of post-diagnosis survival. The road has been hard and bumpy and like everyone else, I have no idea what is around the next corner. I have spun the cancer Wheel of Fortune 4 times now and have been lucky to have only local recurrences. But how many times can you spin that wheel and avoid the slots marked for metastasizes and death? I think I have used up all my get out of jail free cards and if forced to spin again, I don’t anticipate a 5th local recurrence.

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Intellectually, I know the deaths and disease progressions will level out in time. But in the meantime, these events are extremely stressful for everyone involved. It’s not a good time to be celebrating a long-term
cancerversary in the midst of all this pain.

So I will be privately pleased to still be alive and able to watch my children grow up. At the same time, I will continue to mourn for the lives lost or forever altered by new recurrences or metastic disease. This will be a very quiet celebration of life and one that I will not take for granted. Thinking of my fallen pink sisters, I think “there but for the grace of God go I”.

Sharon Greene. February4, 2015

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88 thoughts on “It’s My Cancerversary…And I Don’t Feel Like Celebrating

  1. What a wonderful post – so honest, compassionate and true to yourself. Beautiful. Please know that I copied your tender celebrate picture on my own blog! Thank you for continuing to share your life!

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  2. Wonderful blog, just found you from @JBBC’s featured post re your adoption ‘journey’ (for want of a better word). I’ve really needed to see positive stories re having a family after cancer and this has made my day. Though each story is fluid and never ends your determination in building your family shines through and gives me hope.
    Thanks x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Sharon. I’m just on Twitter at the moment…I’m sure there’s a blog (or a book as I told someone the other day!) in me yet x

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Sharon,
    I am coming up on my five year mark and I am not sure how I feel about it. Of course, I’m way beyond just happy to still be here and to still be NED, but I know for me it’s not just over and done with either. Cancer leaves a deep and permanent mark on our psyche. It astounds me how you’ve been through this four times. Of course, there’s no need for survivor’s guilt, but you and I know, we will continue to feel it from time to time. No matter what happens, it’s always onward, right? Thank you for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am trying to go onwards and upwards but sometimes it is hard. I am grateful to be alive here with my kids but as you say, cancer has never been completely resolved. I am close to the point where I will have spent half my life battling cancer. I doubt it will ever be a closed book for me.

      5 years is a big milestone year for you. Hopefully your cure will be for real and you won’t have to deal with any more cancer.

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  4. Breast cancer changes everything about us, perhaps and especially, our concept of time and longevity. I come from a family riddled with cancer on both, maternal and paternal sides – just last week, two more cousins died from some sort of cancer. I “know” it too, will be my eventual undoing.

    Until that time though, I will pass my cancerversary date, just glad to have passed “go” one more year and trying to not ask questions like, why am I alive and younger women are dying from this disease? Why was I lucky that my cancer was not the aggressive type and treatable with hormone blockers while others are suffering through chemo and radiation?

    I’m sorry for all the young women who are succumbing to this awful disease but I am happy for my outcome and yours. And, I think it is important for us to write our blogs so that women know that sometimes, the diagnosis is not always an immediate death sentence and life can go on… for some time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I believe that too. I know many women find hope in my story as long as they can get past the 3 recurrences! But even the recurrences show that life can still go on for a long time even with recurrences. And that not all recurrences turn into Stage 4 cancer. Thanks for the reminder to be grateful, not just filled with survivor’s guilt!

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      1. This struck a chord with me, Sharon, even though I have not yet even had my surgery and only been diagnosed 2 1/2 weeks.. I have been told that my cancer is very likely to be completely cured by the surgery and maybe some chemo afterwards to stop it returning, and even at this early stage I’ve been sufferng a few pangs of survivor’s guilt!! Thinking about people who are so much worse off than me. This early-stage cancer is my first encounter with this disease in myself and it will most likely be my last but already it’s generating some pretty confused emotions in me! Does it always have to have this effect?

        Shoshi

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      2. Survivor’s guilt is often part of the cancer package deal. The more you get to know other survivors, either in person or virtually through online groups, the more likely you are to get your heart broken at some point as people die or take a turn for the worse. Cancer is pretty brutal in the number of people it claims and the age at which it claims them.

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      3. Thanks Sharon. I am already on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and my initial elation at the news that it has not spread has disappeared and I am feeling unsettled again. I wish I could stop thinking about all this!!!

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      4. What you are feeling is perfectly normal. A cancer diagnosis is a life altering event. My emotions have been all over the map with each new diagnosis. Try to rest up as best you can before surgery. If the anxiety becomes overwhelming, there is no shame in a prescription for ativan or xanax to help stay calm. Hugs.

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      5. Thank you Sharon – this is a great comfort. It’s always good to know one isn’t alone, isn’t it. I’ve always been pretty strong and upbeat but this is a bit of a facer to say the least. I always thought cancer was something other people got, not Shoshi! How ridiculous is that, but then I expect we all think a bit like that!!

        Shoshi

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Had my surgeon’s appointment today and have been told I am having a total colectomy and ileostomy. This is much larger than I’d anticipated, but after a long and very fruitful discussion I know it is by far the best thing for several reasons. I’ve written my account of the interview on my Cancer Diary page on my blog: http://shoshiplatypus.blogspot.co.uk/p/blog-page.html – I asked loads of questions and all of them, except those relating to the nature of the cancer which won’t be answered until after histology, have been answered, and answered well. I’m going into hospital on Fri. 27th Feb. and will have the operation on that day, and will stay in at least a week.

      Shoshi

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh Shoshi, I am sorry about the bigger surgery! I’m glad you asked all your questions and were satisfied with the answers. In laymen’s terms, what exactly are they doing to you? I’ll read your post after I get back from an appointment. Hugs. I’ll be thinking of you on your surgery date and beyond.

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      2. Thanks for your kind words, Sharon. What they will be doing is cutting off the beginning of the large bowel where it joins the small intestine, and removing the whole of the large bowel and rectum, and closing off the anus. They will take the cut end of the small intestine and bring it out to the surface, creating a stoma onto which a bag will be attached. This means that there is far less risk of the cancer returning and will deal once and for all with the colitis (you can’t have inflammation in a non-existent colon lol!). If I had had only part of the bowel removed, because of the extra risk of developing cancer when you have an inflammatory bowel disease, he would have had to remove quite a large section, which would have left only a small length. This would not have been sufficient to work properly. One of the functions of the large bowel is to absorb water and form solid stools, and I would have been producing large amounts of diarrhoea throughout the day and night, and with my reduced mobility, most of the time not making it to the loo in time. I told him I can’t live like that, and that a bag would be much more manageable.

        Shoshi

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you Sharon. Yes, it’s very major surgery. With my head I know it’s the very best thing all round, but my gut feeling (sorry – pun intended lol!!) is that I am going to lose quite a big bit of “me” and I shall probably go into a sort of bereavement, as I did over my hysterectomy. About 5 days after that operation, I was in floods of tears (what my gynaecologist called “a rainy day” lol!) and the nurse explained to me that I was grieving for part of my body that was gone. That made me feel much better, when I understood why I was so out of control with my emotions.

        I know that in time I shall get quite used to managing the stoma, but at first it is going to be hard, and I’m going to feel vulnerable and out of control of my life. It’s a huge adjustment. Thank goodness there is such an excellent support network, with such kind and knowledgeable team members who are not fazed by any of this, and I can lean on them until I am able to cope on my own. I also have my wonderful hubby who is one in a million and is such a rock and support.

        I will get through this. I just need time to face the operation and take it all on board, to recover from the surgery and to make all the necessary adjustments.

        This is so not what I was expecting 2015 to bring! I had all these plans for new art projects, and as it is, I have hardly spent a moment in my studio. My creative mojo has deserted me, but I am sure when I settle down in the coming weeks, it will return.

        Shoshi

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Take the time now to rest as you are under a huge amount of emotional stress. Take good care of yourself. Pamper yourself now as the initial days and weeks after surgery will be rough. Accept help from anyone who offers it. Know I will be thinking of you during surgery and beyond. Hugs.

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      5. Thank you Sharon! I intend to pamper myself, and my hubby is determined to spoil me. Got to get Mum out of the picture first. She’s being very naughty and this morning asked her carer to persuade me to change my mind about her going into respite care! No way.

        Shoshi

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Good! I’m glad you are getting pampered and spoiled. Have you told your Mum yet about the true nature of your surgery? Good for you for sticking to your guns and not giving into your Mum. This time is all about you!

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  5. Sharon, I think we try to define our experience with that which can be tagged and labeled to help us make sense out of the inexplicable, but even those tags fail. I’m also have a hard time figuring out my cancerversary for different reasons. Then there survivor’s guilt: Be happy! oh, but not too happy. And on it goes. I’ll just say: I’m so glad you’re still here. I celebrate that your children have their mother, and I hope this pattern continues for a long time, but with less medical drama.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Eileen for those words of wisdom. There is also a bit of superstition floating around in me that if I let my guard down too much and celebrate my longevity, I will be tempting fate to visit with another dose of cancer. Silly maybe but it seems to be part of the process. Thanks for your good wishes! That really means a lot.

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  6. Another well written article. We are all here for a specific reason and we will never know why some of us have short lives and others have long lives but that is part of the mystery of life. It is what we do in that life. Your blogs have touched and influenced me and I am one of many. This in itself is a reason why you are still here. Keep on living, keep on writing these articles because you have a great gift you are sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your very kind comments! I’m glad that my blogging is helping some people. It makes everything I’ve been through on this cancer journey have some positive purpose and meaning. Your words are very much appreciated!

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  7. I am another one who has come across this via the Inspire forum, Sharon. I am inspired and moved by what you wrote. I have just started my own cancer journey, with a diagnosis of bowel cancer on 19th Jan. 2015. We do not yet know exactly what we are dealing with because I am waiting for my first appointment after the CT scan results are in, and all I know so far is that I have cancer, and am having surgery, but we are hoping it’s been caught early enough. I have started an online diary (http://shoshiplatypus.blogspot.co.uk/p/blog-page.html) and have decided to be honest about my feelings – I really appreciate reading what you have written, and seeing how honest you are being about your feelings. I personally think you have done brilliantly well, surviving 4 cancers. How you deal with this, of course, is your own personal individual choice – everyone is different and I don’t think it’s necessary to feel guilty about how one feels, or apologise for it, however hard that might be in practice!

    Shoshi

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sorry to hear that cancer has stuck its claws into another person. Hopefully it has been caught early and you will live a long and full life. I will definitely check out your blog to follow you on your journey through Cancerland. Keeping my fingers ctossed and wishing you the best! Hugs.

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      1. I have just had some very good news – the specialist colo-rectal nurse phoned to say they had the MDT meeting this a.m. and I will have an appointment to see the surgeon probably towards the end of next week. She was able to tell me that the scan revealed that the cancer has not spread beyond the bowel – Yaaayyy!! and that surgery will be considered curative, but only after histology will they know whether I will need some chemo, but if so, it will be merely preventive, not treatment, to stop any recurrence of the cancer. This is very good news, and such a relief. Of course, I’ve still got to get through the surgery (I’m not looking forward to that) but this whole grizzly business may be over sooner than we’d anticipated. As for myself, I sense a relaxation of inner tension that I wasn’t even aware of until it had gone. This probably explains the horrible untethered feeling I’ve been experiencing over the past two and a half weeks since I got the diagnosis, and why I haven’t been able to settle to anything. It was like a distorting lens, making my real life seem fuzzy and indistinct, but suddenly everything has snapped back into focus again and I feel more as if I’ve got my feet on the ground once more. That’s not to say I won’t have my moments in the coming weeks, but at least we know more what we are dealing with now.

        Shoshi

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you Sharon. If you scroll down, you will find “Follow this site” and also “Follow by email” at the bottom of the left-hand sidebar of my blog. You can’t subscribe separately to the Cancer Diary page, but this will link to my blog as a whole, and all you need do when you get there is click in the “Cancer Diary” tab at the top, under the main heading. Thank you for your interest in subscribing!

        Shoshi

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well done, Sharon, and thanks so much for subscribing! If you want a bit of light relief, have a look at my blog proper and see the sort of art I get up to! I’m hoping now things are a bit more definite I shall get my creative mojo back again and get back in the studio. Got to make my hubby an extra special Valentine card this year if I can summon up the will to do it – he’s being such a trooper over all this, and caring for Mum too.

        Shoshi

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Raising a glass of (the evil) red wine in celebration of your 27 years, brava! I live with metastatic breast cancer. Sometimes I think I feel a certain jealousy for those who keep on surviving, because selfishly I’d like to do the same… but never ever any form of resentment. Your story is one of inspiration in this totally random world of breast cancer. My oncologist once said, If shark fin soup cured your cancer, I’d be pouring it down your throat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If shark fin soup cured your cancer Carolyn, I’d buy you a shark! Thank you for honestly sharing your feelings. I’d like to drink a toast to you for battling stage 4 cancer. I’d certainly be jealous too and probably somewhat resentful. You are a better person than me with that kind of attitude.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Reading some of the comments, it is becoming clearer that my guilt in living while those around me are dying doesn’t help either the living or the dead. I’ll try to snap out of this funk and be truly appreciative for living as long as I have.

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  9. Hi Sharon,

    Yes, that cancer roulette wheel keeps on turning, doesn’t it? I think if there were a dietary cure for cancer, cancer would be cured by now. I also feel it’s random. You have every right to celebrate being alive, as do I. I think the only thing we can do is live in the present.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that if it was as easy as eating all your vegetables, none of us would be in this mess to begin with. I’m just wondering if it is in bad taste wanting to celebrate 27 years longevity on the one hand and then continually reading about young women not much older than 27 who are Stage 4 or died the night before. On the other other hand, I have now spent almost half my life battling cancer (2 more years and it will be officially half my life) and I am tired of the roulette wheel. I deserve some sort of celebration for my sheer determination in continuing to fight this battle time after time, year after year (as do the brave Stage 4 women). Thanks for writing these comments as they are helping me to see my status a bit more clearly. I’m very grateful for these past 27 years, particularly because it gave me the chance to be a mother and watch my kids grow from babies to young teens.

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  10. I feel…like i must reply to this. But I’m not sure what to say. There is so much confusion when it comes to this experience. And I can’t even say I understand that from my own personal experience. Though I’ve been touched by it incredibly.
    If you don’t feel like celebrating. If you want to scream from the rooftops total profanity, I think you’ve earned it. But I also think you’ve made it really far and still have so much life. And I’m glad you’re here.

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  11. I am celebrating for and with you! I appreciate and understand some of your feelings here, but I think that the sisters that have passed would be happy for you and support your celebration because they know what it feels like – survivor’s guilt and all. Many hugs and much love to you!

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  12. Hi Sharon. You’ve expressed so well the complex and sometimes confusing ideas that come up around the notion of survivorship. But nevertheless, in my view you have every right to claim 27 years of survivorship–no explanations needed! You have lived through all of this and you’re still here and that is enough and every reason to celebrate! I was diagnosed about 22 years ago and had a local recurrence 10 years ago. I do believe that doing all we reasonably can to take care of ourselves makes a difference–though of course there are no guarantees for anyone, whether or not they have ever had a cancer diagnosis. All the recent deaths are heartbreaking and reinforce the urgency of following through on the recent “promising” research leads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 22 years with only one recurrence is amazing! I am glad you are another long term survivor. It is confusing to understand why some of us live long term with seemingly worse prognosises while others move quickly onto Stage 4 and death. I do hope these recent breakthroughs in cancer research, particularly the vaccine, prove to be as effective for as many women as possible as all the hype would have you believe. And if they are effective, I hope they are fast tracked out of the lab and into general use. Thanks for reading my post and for your insightful comments.

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  13. What a touching post Sharon. I applaud you for your courage, tenacity and honesty. I cannot imagine all that you have had to deal with since 1988. I am cheering you on and I hope you can hear me. You are AMAZING!!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sharon, I just found your blog through the inspired blogging group. Thank you for your words and your wholehearted sharing. I just want to reach out and give you a big gentle hug. Your strength and courage inspire me and I am celebrating your 27 years of surviving. Wrapping you around with infinite love and health.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I hope you can hear me applauding your post from here in Marietta, Ga. So well written and related to. I wish you nothing but the best, always, as we all meander the same highway together.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Well said. I’m a two time survivor but I admit to not wearing the pink ribbon, running 5ks, and trying to stay away from breast cancer conversation. It seems to bring up PTSD type response in me. My life is full of friends, work, family. The one good takeaway for me is perspective on little annoyances-broken refrigerators or flooded basements don’t bother me anymore.
    I am happy to talk one to one with any woman going through it but the support groups freak me out a little and I can only see so much. Sharon, I’m glad you blog and are honest about the way you feel. I believe a positive attitude helps me stay happy-not sure about healthy but it can’t hurt.

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    1. Sometimes the support groups bring the devastation caused by cancer clearly into focus as with so many members, there are bound to be periods of loss and death. It is easier to pretend these don’t exist by staying unconnected to the breast cancer community at large. This is both a good and a bad thing as it has really opened my eyes to how lucky I have been, although the rest of the world won’t see the good luck in being a 4 time cancer survivor. My survivor’s guilt has been triggered big time lately by all the unnecessary loss and death of some very young women. I will keep your words of wisdom in mind when navigating the battleground that is the world of breast cancer. I really appreciate your comments.

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  17. Another awesome post. I really understand. Because I am in my late sixties the injustice of seeing beautiful children with cancer strikes me all the time. I’m alive . . . why aren’t they well? And on and on. Overthinking. We are supposed to rejoice in being alive . . . and I don’t think that takes away from those who continue to fight cancer or who have lost their battle. Only by being alive are we able to continue to give support to those who need it. Our destiny is unknown to us. I keep thinking there is a reason in all of this . . . I just don’t have all of the answers. Thank you, Sharon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I am a master of overthinking and am experiencing survivor’s guilt watching so many very young women being struck down, leaving behind babies and young children. I guess it isn’t my time to go yet. There must still be a purpose to my life that I have yet to fulfill. Thank you for your encouraging and comforting comments.

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  18. I think this is a very deep post. And I am thanking you for writing so honestly about what is going on inside of you. Although I never had cancer (so far), I can understand how difficult it must be to ‘celebrate’ being cancer free. There is no reason for being ashamed. It is wonderful that you feel for everyone else who has not been so lucky. Unfortunately there is nothing you can do.

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    1. Sometimes it just seems in bad taste to celebrate my gains in the light of so many other people’s loss. I know my guilt about surviving when so many don’t does nothing to ease their loss. But it really has been luck that has taken me this far, not some great lifestyle secret on my part. I guess God isn’t finished with me yet and I still have some purpose left to fulfill. Thanks for your encouraging comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Sharon
    It must be difficult facing the news of others at a time of celebration. This tells me we have far to go in understanding Breast Cancer and more women are getting the devastating news every day. Please don’t let that dampen your celebration. You worked your ass off to survive when many would have given up. You have so much to celebrate for. It’s always sad to know others around us didn’t make it. Don’t let that hold you back from celebrating, praying, whatever and everything you want to do. You’ve worked very hard and deserve every day minute of celebration.
    Hugs
    M

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comforting words. Its been a difficult path but one that somehow avoided the landmines of metastic disease and early death. My survivor’s guilt has been kicking in big time lately in the current cycle of bad news and death. Thanks for your understanding and encouragement!

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  20. No real reason to feel guilty or ashamed for being alive. It could be said you survived out of luck, though there’s no scientific proof that luck exists…luck is just something we attribute so we don’t stress ourselves out. Stress: one of the promoters of cancer.

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    1. Maybe luck…bad luck at least, is another promoter of cancer. I’m not ashamed to be alive. It just seems somehow in bad taste to be celebrating longevity when so many young women are dropping dead almost daily. Survivor’s guilt kicking in again I guess.

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  21. Great and very thoughtful post, Sharon! U know what ticks me off most when I am on the discussion boards, is the number of young women with young children that have been dx’d. I can honestly say it bothers me more than the recurrences and the mets. My youngest was 10 when I started this Cancer journey, I cannot imagine going thru all this with a baby or a toddler. This should be one of the happy times in their young lives, but instead……….. Cancer Sucks!!!!!

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    1. I agree fully. The women seem younger all the time. When I was diagnosed way back in 1988 at 29, no one could dig up even one woman in my age group with breast cancer. Now they are everywhere, pregnant or with a new baby or a couple of toddlers. Thanks for commenting.

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