08/08/2013 07:20 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2013

The Ultimate Goal of Survival

Sometimes I choose to live in an alternate reality. Although I know not everyone survives their illnesses, I choose to believe they will. It's not denial, it's hope.

I'm sure it's a form of protection for my heart. How else can I actively care about others battling a disease I myself am surviving? I imagine the feeling is similar to those military brothers and sisters in arms. We are in the trenches together. We speak the same lingo. We laugh and joke with each other. We learn about families, future hopes, and fears. We all had a path and a purpose that shifted because of the unexpected, the unexplained.

Then we all storm the treatment beach. Some of us are physically stronger than others, but using what strength we have, we scrape our way toward the climax of the sandy mound. Encouraging each other along the way, we have moments of success and moments of setbacks. We are all battling for our lives as different waves of treacherous medications, complications, and frustrations hurl themselves at us. We don't want to worry others so we write notes to loved ones about silly topics inconsequential to this battle. We are trying to remain connected to a community that may not understand the fight we are in.

Despite the turmoil, we press forward on our journey with the ultimate goal of survival; returning to the people we once were. Hopefully, we reach a point where we are able to lift our eyes and take a moment to look around. For the first time on the journey, maybe there is a lull in the firing. We are forced to wait. Watch. Wonder. Maybe we allow ourselves to exhale part of the fearful breath we have been holding since diagnosis. Maybe at that point we reach out and realize others have fallen in the same war. It is not a matter of willpower, stamina, lifestyle, or belief structure that some of us remain. Many of those who have fallen have done what we have done, perhaps even more to aid in their battle.

Of course there is survivor's guilt. When the barrage slows, we walk in honor of those who fight still and those who have retired from the conflict for eternal peace. We light luminarias and invoke fallen friends names not only to remember them, but that we too might be remembered. There is loss we all grieve. We pretend we are not changed, but when we are honest with ourselves we know we are. We have witnessed too much to be unchanged.

A phrase, the new normal, is tossed around casually by others who have never fought the battle, or do not acknowledge the breadth of differences regarding late term effects, or ongoing treatment just to remain stable. We struggle to understand what normal means. We work to fit in to a world that has moved on without us. We have decisions to make about sharing our experiences or keeping them quiet; could others possibly understand? We wonder why the battle had to occur at all, and why we had to be the ones to fight it. We wonder who we have become. We wonder how the courses of our lives have been changed. We mourn. We pause. Yet then, despite it all, we continue on. We rise in one form or another.

In loving memory of all those who have battled, no matter the outcome.