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Survivors Guilt: Metastatic Breast Cancer Series

Debby Madiraca shares through writing in order to provide hope to others. 

Please read below then continue to be inspired by reading more on Debby’s blog site, Bootcamp and Buttercream.  

Debby in at PATCO station in front of a print ad featuring her, by MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper. Read more Debby's experience in doing this ad in her blog, "Caring is Sharing"

Debby at PATCO station in front of a print ad featuring her, by MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper. Read more about Debby’s experience in doing this ad in her blog, “Caring is Sharing”.

Throughout my journey as a Stage IV breast cancer survivor, I have been told by so many people that I am so strong and they don’t know how I have been able to handle everything. It’s flattering, but I always tell them that I’m really not that strong and my journey has not been that difficult. That is the truth. Maybe for someone who has never had cancer, looking at my life from the outside would seem terrifying so perhaps to them I do seem very strong. It makes me feel very uncomfortable when somebody praises me for my strength. I feel like a liar, a fraud. The truth is that every cancer is different and everybody responds differently to treatment. I had a clear PET scan after just 3 rounds of chemo. I have continued to have clear scans ever since. I am able to take medications that keep my cancer at bay and allow me to live my life to the fullest – to the point where I am able to sometimes forget altogether that I have cancer.

The truth is that I am one of the lucky ones.
I have come across many other people who have had many other types of cancer who have not been so lucky. I have known many other breast cancer survivors who have had my exact type of breast cancer who have had to fight much harder battles than I ever had. Yes I am a Stage IV cancer survivor but I often feel like my fight was not half as difficult as other people I have known. I have never had a doctor look at me and tell me that to get my affairs in order. I have never been given months to live. I kicked cancers ass because I could – because my cancer was treatable. I didn’t fight any harder than anybody else. I didn’t survive because I deserved it more than anybody else out there with cancer.  There is nothing about me that is more special and more deserving of this life than anybody else, which is why I feel guilt. All the time.

I’ve read about and met many metastatic breast cancer survivors who have had several recurrences of cancer.  Survivors with bone mets and brain tumors who have had craniotomies and full brain radiation. Women who will never grow hair ever again because of the treatments they have been through. Here I sit with a head full of hair, healthy, happy, cancer free, and guilty as hell. I often wonder if I were one of those women looking at my situation, if I would have anger toward me. Would I be happy for me? Or would I be insanely jealous of how easy I’ve had it?  

I know that at any given moment my cancer could come back in full effect.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not delusional and I am very well aware of the statistics with metastatic breast cancer. I know that at any given moment my cancer could come back in full effect and my doctor could come into the room with the same face she had when she first told me it was in my liver. I know that my cancer free status is not a guarantee, but I know there are may fighters out there who would give anything for one clear PET scan.  Just one.

So that’s why, when somebody tells me I am strong, I feel so terrible. I’m strong because I can be. I’m strong because my cancer allows me to be. When you compare me to the warriors who have passed and the ones who have been told there is no hope, I am not strong at all. My battle pales in comparison to those warriors. They are the real heroes, not me.

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