Survivor Guilt

A young woman died yesterday of metastatic lung cancer; I am still here. Why? I don’t know why. I read almost daily of someone in our lung cancer community who has died. And for every one, I shed a few tears. But there are those who are still fighting, and I count myself among that number. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in October, and after 4 treatments with chemo, I am on maintenance therapy. I don’t know how long the drugs will work, and I don’t know what comes next. I only know that lung cancer kills more people than all other cancers combined, and that the funding for lung cancer research is woefully inadequate.

Why do some people survive and others not? I don’t know what the variable is. But sometimes I feel guilty for being on maintenance therapy and doing well when there are others who have reached the end of their options. And there are those for whom nothing works at all. I don’t know what makes the difference; I wish I did, and I wish I could give it to all of those on this journey. It isn’t fair that young women are dying of this disease; they have their whole lives ahead of them.

I know it isn’t up to me to decide who lives and who dies. And I’m glad for that. I spent many years as a nurse and saw what those decisions did to those who had to make them. I remember patients as young as 16 dying of cancer. But that was so long ago. Lung cancer treatment has advanced, but the survival rates are still abysmal. Is it because of the perception that only smokers get lung cancer? If so, we need to change that. More and more never-smokers are being diagnosed with lung cancer, and the diagnosis almost always comes when the disease has already advanced to the metastatic stage.

So one more death to make me sad and mad. And why am I still alive and she isn’t?

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