Saturday, October 28, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0340 - Survivor Guilt

For the first time in many, many years, I will not be at home with my family on Remembrance Day. Sure, I'll have my poppy and I'll be remembering the sacrifices of those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom and democracy, but I won't be home with my loved ones. It is the faces of my wife and children that are most poignant when I reflect on what soldiers sacrificed.

The phrase that comes from the Tom Hanks character, Captain John Miller, to Private James Ryan in Saving Private Ryan near the end of the movie, comes to mind: "Earn this."

Soldiers who have survived when many of their comrades died are often immediately grateful that they are able to continue with their normal lives. But as time progresses, they often experience survivor guilt, the sense of disentitlement to life. Sometimes, that translates into a sense that their survival must now be earned, sometimes, sadly, nothing they do seems to compare with the gift they have been given.

This happens to cancer survivors as well. In fact, if my experience is indicative, the longer I survive the less entitlement I feel for my survival. Just yesterday, for example, our family learned of the death of a high school teacher at age 33 from cancer. Both my sons had studied Spanish with her. She leaves a husband, three small children, and a host of students whose lives she enriched.

"Earn this."

I have been wondering lately why I am almost always on the verge of crying. I'll watch a movie or television show or hear a newscast or read a story and my eyes will well up. I can't control this. But maybe it has something to do with survivor guilt. Why me? Why am I seemingly beating back an advanced colorectal cancer while so many others succumb? What makes me so special?

Nothing, really. I just hope I can earn the fortune given to me.

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