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Am I a Bad Survivor?

Aren't survivor's supposed to be able to do it all?

I just sent my husband off to Machu Picchu without me. We were both invited on a trip to Peru and I declined, but as I’m sitting here alone in my house, I’m reflecting on one thing that I said to him yesterday before he left: “I think it will be freeing for you not to have to worry about me for 10 days.” Not that he won’t think about me - because he will - it’s just that since my breast cancer diagnosis five years ago, he’s had to be acutely aware of my physical and mental well-being every single day.

From the second the doctor said, “It’s cancer, and it’s stage 4,” we’ve both been living with a constant awareness of the toll that cancer and medications take on my body and psyche. In the beginning, it was dealing with the baldness, nausea, pain and all the issues that come with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Then it was the slow recovery. Even now, there’s a constant show of physical and psychological concerns that crop up. Whether it’s continued pain from the surgery and radiation (something very few people talk about in public), the side effects of my daily medication, or nagging fears of recurrence or lymphedema - there’s always something.

Our lives have changed dramatically since my diagnosis, and in some ways, for the better. We are definitely trying to focus more on bringing joy into our lives, and I get tremendous happiness from hearing how my book, Bald is Better with Earrings – A Survivor’s Guide to Getting Through Breast Cancer, has helped people. I love doing author talks and meeting women who are going through what I’ve been through and more. Their stories are inspiring, and I often find myself comparing myself to them and falling short.

I am positive that so many of the brave and strong women I have met who’ve suffered far more than I, would have jumped at the chance to go on a Peruvian adventure. Part of their new desire to live every day to its fullest. Am I a bad survivor? A bad role model? Sure, I need to work – to write blogs and articles and try to get my book into the hands of women who really need it – but couldn’t I have done that and still climbed Machu Picchu? Maybe I would’ve inspired someone. After all, aren’t we survivors supposed to be able to do it all?

If you read the articles, watch the movie of the week and the network talk shows, it seems like the proper survivor soldiers on during all manner of surgery, treatment and side effects, can complete a 39 mile walk in 2 days, all the while wearing just the right amount of natural-looking makeup, writing inspirational articles, founding a charity for local women and only eating organic, locally sourced food. You can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, but you better not eat it!

I haven’t had any bacon in a while, but I eat regular fruit from the grocery store and I stayed home this week. I’ve decided that being a survivor gives me permission to be more true to myself. I don’t often give in to the fears and pains, but sometimes I do, and that’s ok. It’s unrealistic to think that you can go through what breast cancer patients go through, and not need a good cry and a whine once in a while. I think it’s really important for women and their caregivers to know that it’s ok to feel pain and fear and ask for help. It’s necessary. So when my body said, “Machu Picchu is not for us,” I had to listen. And I hope that my husband is enjoying listening to the sounds of the wind and the birds, instead of my aches and pains.