When I was diagnosed 10 years ago at the tender age of 31 there wasn't anyone I knew who had been through it. Well, except one person. It was my cousin who had been through it 2 years earlier. She was also in her early 30's with 2 kids at the time. The day I got the news she was one of the first calls I made. It meant so much to talk to someone who was family, and close to my age who had survived a mastectomy and grueling chemo that I was facing. Neither one of us ever thought about breast cancer. You see we don't have a history in our family on either side (our mother's are sisters).
We each handled the emotions differently but had similar treatments. I in NY was treated at Sloan-Kettering, and she in Houston was treated at MD Anderson both top cancer hospitals. She took tamoxifen and I opted not too. I have not had genetic testing and her results were negative. We both changed our diets and questioned environmental causes. I felt a bond with her as family but also as a fellow survivor. I always looked up to her growing up, she was 4 years older than me, so beautiful and kind.
I got a phone call from my mom a week before July 4th letting me know she was in the hospital. And it was bad. I was shocked. You see, I had no idea that her cancer came back 5 years ago. Nobody told me because my cousin didn't want me to worry. Still looking out for me as she did for everyone in her life. She passed away on July 5th. As I write these words I still feel such disbelief. My cousin did everything her doctors told her, even took tamoxifen, went for all her followup tests, made it 8 years before it came back. Here I am alive, healthy, and a 10 year survivor. I cannot help but feel guilty about that and yet at the same time fear for my own life. This feeling surfaced its ugly face when my dad passed from cancer 3 years ago and my sister-in-law passed 6 years ago also from cancer but is much stronger now because it much stronger now.
Next week I go for my annual mammogram and I cannot put into words the fear I am feeling. I know that it is partly from my cousin's death. She was a survivor touchstone for me. I am beginning to think that there has to be some big book up there with all of our arrival and exit dates etched in it somehow. I have to believe there is something more or I don't think I can keep moving forward and let go of the fear . . .