Personal Impact of Peer Support

As a breast cancer survivor I think I experience a bit of Survivor Guilt. I occasionally wonder, “Why me and not them?” Or rather, why hasn’t this disease been eradicated yet and why aren’t we ALL survivors?  It hurts me to the core to know that I will lose more friends and possibly even my mother to the same disease that I have been able to ‘beat’. In the face of survivorship, I have found myself circling back around to “Why me?” which carries with it a twinge of guilt and sadness. Why did I survive when others did not? Why was I so lucky? 

My breast cancer battle is over and not to return.  This is what I tell myself often to ease the fear of its possible return. And just to be clear, the word ‘remission’ does not resonate with me. Remission implies a temporary recovery and I’m of the mindset that my recovery is permanent.  Given that my survivorship is permanent and I operate under the auspice that it won’t return, you might wonder why I would actively continue to support others faced with their own breast cancer battle. Why wouldn’t I just move on with my life and not look back?  I simply cannot. 

I am nearly 8 years living cancer-free and I am finally starting to believe that my experience taught me how important it is to ‘pay it forward.’ I choose to continue the fight. Instead of fighting for myself, I fight for others and provide support to others when the opportunity arises.  I’m not interested in participating in traditional support groups or sitting around a circle sharing potentially sad experiences.  I’m more interested in being an example of hope and courage because I think that’s what I was looking for when I was diagnosed. I just needed an ounce of hope to get me through treatment and my life back in my control again.   

It took me awhile to get to a comfortable place with my survivorship.  It’s been years since I completed treatment and I still have thoughts on occasion of my body not being right, though I’m no longer afraid that the cancer will come back. I suppose it’s only natural to compare type and stage of cancer, treatment plans, etc. It’s what we do—we find common ground, especially in the face of cancer—because we need one another.  We all deserve to survive and thrive and enjoy our precious lives, but each story is different. I’ve gotten better at being able to provide support to others through their own diagnosis without internalizing it or stirring memories of my own battle with breast cancer.  All I can do is focus on each day I am given, be thankful and live my life in the best way I know how. For me, being alive and being an advocate and fighter is holding on to hope.

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