Surrounded by darkness, a man releases glowing stars into the sky.

Surviving Skin Cancer

"Why me? Why did I survive?” I remember these words from a firefighter in Brooklyn. It was the fall of 2001 and I was part of a group from the New York Jets football team visiting fire halls who had lost men on 9/11. As the team chaplain, it was my job to speak to these men and the widows and families of firefighters who did not survive that fateful day. It was rough.

Do I have survivor’s guilt?

With each new fire hall came the same sentiments. That fall, I was introduced to the condition called survivor’s guilt. It’s the feeling that people may get when they survive something traumatic and others don’t. Sometimes, they feel some sort of responsibility for not doing more. Sometimes I feel this way.

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Could I have done more?

What do I mean? Well, my first melanoma diagnosis was in 1988 and I have been fortunate enough to celebrate thirty birthdays since. Many have not. Don’t get me wrong. I feel very blessed and celebrate my life, especially my “post melanoma diagnosis” life. Yet, when I read about others who have passed as a result of skin cancer, I am deeply saddened and for some reason, I ask myself if I could have done more.

The advantage of good healthcare

I knew very few of these people personally. Yet, I don’t feel much different than anyone who has had a serious skin cancer diagnosis. Why have I survived and others have not? My only answer is that I don’t know, for sure. My melanoma was caught early. I had good care. I have had the means to get proper treatment and subsequent check-ups. I am thankful for this, yet my heart is heavy for others.

Making my life count

One of my favorite movies is Saving Private Ryan. At the end of the movie, Private Ryan (played by Tom Hanks), is admonished by Captain Miller’s last words to “earn this, earn it.” Miller was referring to the sacrifice that he and US soldiers had made to save Private Ryan in war-torn Europe. He was telling Ryan to make his life count. Ryan always remembered that and took it to heart.

Helping others survive skin cancer

This is how I feel. When I see what others have gone through, it emboldens me. It makes ME want to “earn this, to earn it.” It inspires me to want to make a difference. Now, I understand that serving in combat is very different than living life outside of a battle zone. Yet, for me, the principle remains. I have my answer now.

Why have I survived? Well, I have survived so that I can help others. I have survived so that I may advocate for others. I have survived to honor the legacy of those who have not. Any feelings of guilt now transform me into action. This is why. I want my life to count and I have dedicated myself to fight skin cancer.

What can you do?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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