Another Breed of Cancer Survivors – guest post

Surviving ...

Surviving ...

Guest Posts at this site are always written by a survivorUsually the survivor is the cancer patient.  But not always, not this time.  Talia Klein started her blog Daughter of Cancer to document her mother’s struggle with glioblastoma, a terminal form of brain cancer.  Her mother’s life has since passed.  Talia still finds the strength and energy to continue to offer us her insight.

Another breed of cancer survivors

Wikipedia defines a cancer survivor as “… an individual with cancer of any type, current or past, who is still living.”

I am pretty sure that the definition should be amended to include those who lost a loved one to cancer.

You see, we – my grandparents and sisters and dad, and all of my mom’s good friends and family – we are cancer survivors as well.

We are the leftovers of my mom’s brain cancer.

We are the ones left with picking up the pieces. My mom is gone, but we’re still here, and so many of our daily activities are constant reminders of her death. Whether it’s celebrating my niece’s birthday without my mom – and remembering she was at the previous one – or celebrating my nephew’s birthday – and still feeling slightly shocked that instead of my mother, my dad’s new girlfriend is celebrating with us – these are all symptoms of our survival. (Side note: We really love my dad’s new girlfriend and her sons – but that’s for another post.)

We are the ones who are grieving on a daily basis. The ones who need to figure out where we go from here, what changes we need to make, such as the previously-mentioned deletion of phone numbers and email addresses.

We are the ones who keep having to tell the story. Every time we run into someone who didn’t know my mom was sick and we have to tell them she died, we are survivors all over again. Even though the process isn’t as painful as it was at first, it still isn’t easy. When I speak of my mom as being dead, I am completely disconnected from the words coming out of my mouth. As far as I’m concerned, I could be talking about the rain in Minnesota. Because that’s my way of surviving.

We are the ones who feel the effects of her death every day, even in stupid things like accidentally saying “My mom would love that!” and then feeling bad for the person who heard it because they don’t know what to say.

We’re the ones who can randomly start crying at any given moment (this isn’t as bad as it used to be) and then have to start explaining why. And, of course, feeling bad.

We’re the ones who have lost additional friends – and even family members – because they don’t know what to say to us anymore. Now that our mom died, they’ve simply stopped speaking to us. This has happened on every level of friendship – and even family – that we have.

We are the ones who are labeled. The Ones Whose Mom/Wife/Child/Grandmother Died of Brain Cancer.

We are the ones who are looked upon with pity, both by those who know us and don’t how to talk to us anymore, and those who just find out.

We’re the ones who easily freak out about anything. Every time my words get mixed up or I use a feminine instead of masculine word or get a headache or can’t feel some random part of my body – I flip out, because those were my mom’s symptoms. Yes, I know that it’s not hereditary, and no, I don’t call the doctor about either of them. But just like every sound in my building has been scaring me since the break in last month (for the most part), this is something I can’t change.

My mom’s glioblastoma affected our life profoundly and forever altered who we are. It has changed us in every possible way, and its devastation is felt almost on a daily basis.

The original definition of “cancer survivor” is a positive one; It is one of triumph, one that shows that even though cancer has attacked, people can survive.

I can only assume, then, that we – the friends and family of those who have died – cannot be included in the official definition because we are the negative side of cancer.

But we are, in fact, cancer survivors as well.

from: Daughter of Cancer


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.


Another Breed of Cancer Survivors – guest post — 3 Comments

  1. At last month’s Phoenix Undy 5000, I was a speaker at the survivor ceremony after the race had concluded. I was asked to speak about my personal experience as a survivor, but I didn’t want to leave that as the only impression of a survivor. I’m a survivor in the sense that I beat the disease. My family and friends are survivors in the sense that they had to alter their lives – they are now friends, family, etc. to a cancer patient. My friend Kim passed away from cancer in August – her family (her husband, children, parents, brother, etc.) are all survivors. The term survivor is defined not by some bureaucratic person behind a desk, trying to describe what this word means. The term survivor refers to anyone who has lived through this disease, and this word is as individual as the people it defines. Take a look at – this is a wonderful website that allows individuals to describe their own vision and version of survivorship – Lynn just launched the co-survivors section. Speaks to this post. Very important for us all to remember that we are all survivors, whether we had the cancer or loved someone who did. We are all affected by this disease….

  2. Talia,
    What a beautifully written post. I worry about just this, I worry about leaving my family. Sometimes I think I am the lucky one. When I die, I won’t be here to deal with those I leave behind. My husband, children, mom, siblings, in-laws, friends, they are left behind to survive me. There is no easy answer. We are all born and we will all die. That’s life in it’s most basic form. My hope for you is that you will continue to write about your experience and share your feelings so that people like me can help our own families prepare for our eventual deaths. My thoughts are with you – I send you peace…

  3. Hi Maggie,

    I continue to write mainly for me, but also for my audience, which is now full of people who I have never met, but are going through – or have gone through, or are about to go through – everything I have experienced.

    I’m sorry that you aren’t well (which I understood from your comment). I hope you are able to enjoy your time with your family, and I am always available if you or anyone in your family would like to talk (my email address is on my blog).

    Feel good and thanks for your kind words.


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