A Second Chance

by Gena BradshawSurvivor, Leukemia and Thyroid CancerApril 26, 2022View more posts from Gena Bradshaw

Never in my life did I think I would be here today writing about being a two-time cancer survivor at 28 years old. My name is Gena Bradshaw, and I was diagnosed with leukemia at age three and a half and thyroid cancer at age twenty. Talk about traumatic experiences—half of my childhood was spent in the hospital, then as I was about to turn 21, I had to undergo major surgery to remove half of my thyroid. My childhood and young adult life was focused on how I survived cancer, how others didn’t survive, and that I was blessed to make it through. My life has come full circle many times. I now live my life to the absolute fullest, experience optimal health, have amazing mentors and guides to help me through this journey, have an amazing support system, and see why I went through cancer: to get to the other side and be hope and inspiration for others. I know why I am here. However, this journey was no easy ride; this took me to the darkest place, the depth of my soul, but I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. I was able to carry on my life and heal myself in a holistic way.

As a teenager I hid my story. I felt guilt, shame, humiliation, and judgment. What if I wasn’t liked by my peers because they thought they would get sick? I didn’t want to be picked for something “just because I was the girl that had cancer.” I didn’t want to constantly hear how much my family sacrificed and did for me (which I am beyond grateful for). For those that were lost, why did I survive? This question still lingers with me, but I turned that story around and now I am grateful for this adversity and experience. There is always a purpose behind each story. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. It is guilt associated with surviving a traumatic experience where others died. Beating cancer and living, blessed with a second chance while other cancer fighters may have lost their battle, took an emotional toll on me at a young age.

As I became more immersed in sharing my story within cancer communities, I had very heavy emotions. I could feel others’ pain and loss of hope for those that have passed, yet here I stand in front of them very much alive and well. Again, asking myself “Why did I survive, and the others did not?” This heavy feeling stayed with me when I went to fundraisers with parents whose child had passed from cancer, and there I stood in front of them, very much alive. I felt the pain of their loss and imagined them thinking, “What had she done differently for her to survive, while my child did not?”

Being a cancer survivor is a badge of honor. I accept, respect, and appreciate what I went through. I love meeting others like myself who went through adversity and came out on the other side, knowing they’re not alone in this fight. Do not feel shame, guilt, humiliation, or judgment for having gone through something so tragic: just know you’re here for a reason. I no longer allow that guilt to take my energy, for I am here for a reason. While I was doing research for my book, A Survivor’s Story, I came across research that really struck a chord:

“No one seems to realize their true potential, true self, and that their brain is a supercomputer that can change your thoughts in an instant, faster than a millisecond. The power that you hold as an individual is so insane. We apparently can’t fathom this information and so we are like, “Yeah, whatever, it is easier to play this role of a victim instead and live in fear.” Let’s talk about the identity gap; this is the gap between who we really are and how we appear. How we appear: the identity I project to the outer environment, who I want you to think I am, the façade, ideal for the world. Who we really are: how I feel, who I really am, how I am on the inside, ideal for self.

“When we memorize addictive emotional states such as guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, judgment, depression, self-importance, or hatred, we develop a gap between the way we appear and the way we really are.” This gap varies from person to person. It depends on past life experiences, throughout different points in our lives, the bigger the gap the more addicted to our emotions we memorize.” (Reference 1)

This emotion of guilt can run our entire lives, and not in a good way. You have already been through enough as a cancer fighter/survivor. You don’t need to put yourself through more mental and emotional distress. Do not feel bad for surviving, for you have been blessed with a second chance to help others. It’s a great thing to be different. Your story will inspire others to help and find a cure for cancer. Maybe it helps them get through a rough day. Just know God (or whatever you believe) put you on this earth for a reason, and you have beat cancer for a reason. Survivor’s guilt is tough to overcome but know that you can do better and be better every day. No one said the journey was going to be easy; just know you are special and here to help brighten the world.

References:

  1. A Survivor’s Story: A Holistic Healing Journey Through Cancer

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