Honoring those who didn't survive on my fifth cancerversary

Honoring those who didn't survive on my fifth cancerversary
"Fire," by Martijn Snels. Used with permission used with permission of a Creative Commons License, which you can find here

Today is the fifth anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. At my December cystoscopy I fully expect to be declared NED (No Evidence of Disease). Some folks believe this five-year survival means I’m cured. I may well be. And that is good.

I’m grateful to be alive and grateful to have had a low-grade cancer. But I never think of just myself when I think about cancer. I think about so many people who are struggling, suffering, and dying. I think of those who’ve died. Betsy (breast), Valeta (breast), Stephanie (lung), Tom (leukemia), RC (colon), Mary Kay (pancreas), Donna (melanoma), and Sondra (breast).

I do celebrate survivors, surviving, and survivorship. But the joy is bleached by the deaths and by those who are clearly dying.

I hate the term “survivor” and I hate the balloons and brightness and carnival-like atmosphere around survivalversaries.

When a plane crashes, we don’t have parties for the people who lived. We’re keenly aware of those who died and we remember them, honor them.

When the plane goes down and you survive, it’s not because you’re strong and good. It’s because in the unluckiest of events you are a lucky one. Believe me when I tell you that when the plane breaks apart and the woman next to you is destroyed while you coast to the ground all buckled in, it’s just not an experience of joy or happiness or celebration.

There is always burned onto your retinas that image of a woman dying in front of you. Survivorship is an identity forged in an explosion of flames. On good days I remember to be grateful they didn’t lick me, but almost every day I remember the people consumed by them.

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