Survivors Guilt?

Yes, it’s a real thing. This past weekend I lost another friend and former co-worker to Cancer. Ralph Ross started working for Food Services of America about the same time I did back in 1997. We were the same age. His sales territory was in western Montana and we would only see each other a few times a year at sales meetings or maybe an occasional promotional trip. We would always run into each other at a hotel lounge or restaurant and enjoyed conversing with one another while enjoying an adult beverage or two. We had a few things in common as he loved cars, motorcycles, 4 wheelers and the outdoor adventures of life just as I do. We were never extremely close but I knew a bit about him as did he about me. One of our last adventures together was in the Bighorn Mountains where we participated in some sales strategy meetings followed by renting snowmobiles for a half day of some fun. That night we all met up in the lounge and Ralph and I had a good conversation about my advancing cancer and what my plans held for the future. He like most people I have that conversation with was encouraging and he told me to keep fighting on and doing the things I love to do. Sometimes when you have one of those conversations with someone that you only see a few times a year you always wonder in the back of your mind if you will die before seeing them once again. It would not be the last time I saw Ralph but our conversation was a bit deeper on that evening. The last time I spoke to him was at my retirement party in Billings Montana in November of 2016. He wished me well and I was off to enjoy my retirement.

Late last summer I was talking to another former work colleague and he told me that Ralph had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and that it had already metastasized to other organs. I tried to reach out to Ralph but he was in treatment at the time and we never connected personally but we shared a few things on Facebook from time to time when he was able to get on. This past Friday the cancer took his life. I was heartbroken to hear the inevitable news that I knew would come one day. Ralph is once again one of the many people I have known that are diagnosed with cancer long after me and died in relatively a short amount of time after diagnosis. It’s gut wrenching! The things that race through your mind are absolutely terrible because on one hand you are grieving the loss of someone you once knew and the other hand you are thinking and asking yourself tons of questions. Why did he die and I continue to live? When is it my turn? Why has this not happened to me? Why was his cancer so much more aggressive than mine? I was first diagnosed back in 2007 and continue to live on with my disease. How can that happen? Should I feel guilty because he received less than one year of life after diagnosis and now after 12 years I live on with my cancer growing inside me? These are the questions that one cannot answer in life. I should NOT go there in my mind and I know that. But it’s real. It’s a feeling of remorse that his life that was taken and you move on. It’s a very hard feeling to explain but I can assure you that many of us with strange and rare cancers go through this because the waiting is like sitting around with a gun stuck to your head for years, held hostage by your disease. I certainly DO NOT have a death wish but these are the thoughts of one who lives with a metastasized cancer which you know will most likely end your own life if you don’t get hit by a beer truck first. It takes several days to shake this feeling every time this happens. The only thing left to do is move on. Remember those who have passed. Honor the joyful memories. Pray for their soul and loved ones and commit to yourself not to give up.

Well I will assure you that despite the news of another great individual who has passed, I will vow to keep pushing on. To live with a purpose. To live this day as if it were my last. To be happy in each moment that God has given me to enjoy the things of my life especially family, friends and adventure. To keep reaching for another day and be so very happy and thankful that I am still able to live on and enjoy life despite knowing my cancer could become extremely aggressive and end it all at any time. I will commit to Ridin On and hopefully touch a few lives along the way and encourage them to do the same. Yes survivors guilt is real, but it can be beat. I can move on and I will keep Ridin On.

Rest in Peace Ralph Ross, and thank you for the times we shared.