An Emotional Morning

September 14, 2019 – Clear blue skies with a slight breeze from the North made our walk somewhat tolerable. If I could, I think I’d spend every Saturday morning walking around a lake – even a human-made one!

Vicki and I had just finished walking 3.1 miles as part of the West Cancer Center’s (**) annual Fight On event, which is held at Shelby Farms. Fight On raises money for West’s cancer research, patient services, and community outreach.

It takes a village.

Like many of these events, there was a temporary village erected in the lower-bowl of a field that sloped down to the human-made lake. Vendor tents, food, beverages, face painting, and kids’ games gave the event a carnival-like feel.

At some point in the morning, an announcer asked that all survivors and fighters gather for a ceremony and group photo. Am I survivor? I hesitated…I’m never really sure what to call myself. I joined the group as – I suppose – a fighter. Obviously, I still have cancer, but my treatment situation is so different that to most people I appear to have beaten cancer.

The group finished with recognizing those who had lost their battle and those who continue to battle cancer. It was time for the group photo. I was handed a small bell to ring. Ringing the bell has become synonymous with finishing your treatments and, hopefully, ridding yourself of cancer. I decided I was ringing the bell for our daughter, Emily, who is now cancer-free.

It was an emotional moment.


Vicki and I grabbed another complimentary beer, and I stood there looking out over the grassy field and the knoll that separated the lower-bowl from the upper-bowl. It was peaceful. It was calm.

Ribbons to honor and remember all those
touched by cancer.

I just stood there. Suddenly, I choked up. Vick looked at me and asked if I was okay. Then my emotions flooded out. I cried. I put my head down on her shoulder and wept. She asked again what was the matter. What got me?

I told her that no one should die from cancer. I asked Why me? and Why not someone else? In other words, Why am I still here? I haven’t felt that much pain – sadness – inside me in a very long time. It took a little while, but, eventually, I regained my composure. Earlier, I had taken my shoes off – after our 5K walk. I sat down and put my socks and shoes back on.

I just sat there and stared – again – at the empty grass and the knoll. I wondered if this was what heaven might look like. You start in a lower-bowl and walk uphill, unable to see anything past the rise. Once you get to the top of the ridge, the upper-bowl levels out and everyone you’ve missed – everyone who’s gone before you – is there. Waiting.

Like I said, it was an emotional morning.


Survivor’s guilt can manifest itself in a variety of ways and, naturally, for a variety of reasons. Those of us with cancer are particularly sensitive to fellow cancer patients and their situations. For me, I think ringing that little bell Saturday morning reminded me how precious life truly is. And how fortunate I am. No one should ever go through what Vicki and I have been through. Unfortunately, it happens all too frequently.

Survivors, fighters, and friends.

** The West Center is now known as the West Institute for Cancer Research and is part of the University of Tennessee’s health sciences group.

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