I think every cancer patient asks why at some point? I know I did. Why did I get sick? Why did I get colorectal cancer under 50? Why me? I quickly realized there are no answers to those questions and stopped asking. But why has been creeping back into my mind a lot recently. This time the question is different. It isn’t about me and at the same time it is. I want to know why so many of my friends are gone, and I am still here.
I am a long-term survivor and active in the colorectal cancer community. I made it past the five-year mark with active disease, and I have met some incredible people as a result. I am so fortunate, and I know it. But at the same time, I feel so very guilty. I get more time with my husband and daughters. I get to make more memories with them. I simply get more. Too many of the dear friends I’ve made along the way do not. Their tomorrows on this Earth have stopped, and mine have not.
Why them? Why did this disease take them? Why am I alive and they are not? They have husbands or wives to grow old with. They have boo boos to kiss and lullabies to sing. They have candles on cakes and wishes to make. They have graduations to see. They have weddings to plan. They have adventures to seek. They were robbed of their futures! I want to scream at the injustice of it all! Why do I get these moments and they don’t?
The guilt sets in, and I feel like I don’t deserve more time if my friends can’t have it too. I know for a fact I am not alone in this. I’ve had conversations with other survivors who feel the same way. Cancer is so arbitrary in who it takes and who it spares. I am not special. It is not more important for me to be here than the countless friends I’ve lost.
It is so easy to let that guilt overwhelm me, but then I think about what my friends would say to me if they were here. After figuratively kicking me in the butt, they would tell me to stop it. Stop questioning why I have life and get busy living it. I also think about what I would want to tell my friends if the roles were reversed.
I would tell them to hug their babies and give extra kisses. Dance in the kitchen with their spouses to their favorite songs. Sing bad karaoke at the top of their lungs. I want them to share their stories and hearts, so maybe someone else is saved from cancer. I would remind them to continue filling their days with joy, laughter, and love. And lastly, I would tell them to let go of their guilt and know they all deserve life even if mine is cut short. Because the best way to honor my memory is to go on since I cannot and spread hope for others along the way.
Diana Sloan is a 2018 “On the Rise” magazine featured survivor, wife, mother, and Stage IV colorectal cancer patient.