The Guilt That Keeps Going

When I was first diagnosed almost three years ago, I didn’t quite understand the meaning of survivor’s guilt. Then when I experienced the loss of someone that I actually knew and had multiple conversations about being strong and courageous, I knew exactly what it was in that moment.

We all have our own story

Many of you know this to be true much more than me. I found myself going down deep dark paths of questions. Why not me? Why am I doing well, and others are dying? Why do I feel good today while others are suffering? How do I keep hope alive for my friends as well as myself and find some sort of balance?

The only answer that I could come up with was that we all had our own story. None of us have the same DNA or cell makeup; therefore, we are all different -- our cancer stories are different. It doesn’t change the power of the mind and the places the mind can take us.

How can we be strong for each other?

I have had plenty taken from this earth due to all kinds of cancer. I can’t help but think that I am no better than them. They have a 10-year-old daughter to raise. A daughter that now won’t have her mom for all things a daughter needs a mom for from the first crush to her wedding day and beyond. I don’t have any children.

Then I think about my mom that was diagnosed last summer with breast cancer. We fight together. How do we be strong for each other? Or do we? Do we just be real with each other in this fight? The thoughts are debilitating far more than the disease when struggling with losing someone or the thought of losing someone.

The guilt that comes when comparing ourselves to others

Another friend locally has been on a downward spiral for three years. She was diagnosed a mere four days after me. I went from not knowing a whole lot about cancer to being surrounded with it by my friends and family. She’s lost her hair on three different occasions, yet I have a head full and not shed one. She owns her own law firm yet can’t go into her own office or see clients because of illness. Her own livelihood is being taken away slowly by cancer. I don’t own a business, yet I have income. It seems so unfair. She’s worked her entire life for her career and client base. A shower is a great accomplishment for her most days -- I take it for granted.

When I speak to those in struggle, I find myself unsure of what to say. I understand what they are going through but “I am sorry” doesn’t seem good enough and “I know how you feel” seems inconsiderate during times of confusion and despair. I try to be strong and encouraging, but then when the conversation is over, I find myself going down a path of what-ifs and how that could easily be me. Nothing guarantees my cancer does or doesn’t do anything. It’s cancer. I can eat all the things and do all the right things, but there’s no guarantee that it will behave.

Finding the right words of support

Then I see a fellow lung cancer friend hiking the Rocky Mountains and I feel suddenly inadequate. Someone that shares the same medication as me and then suddenly there’s new growth. They journey to find the next step begins. The procedures to combat the new growth and I ask myself what it would feel like starting over. Yet resiliency is displayed and an attitude of fight not pity. Then the guilt of my medication still working for me sets in.

What do you say? Again, “I am sorry” seems vain. I would mean it with my whole heart, but it feels like just filler words. I fear the day my path shifts. I voice that and it feels like it comes across as crass. “Sorry it quit working for you, but I am still going strong” is not the message I want to send. So, it feels so odd to say anything.

We have to focus on the silver lining

The guilt of surviving progression-free is real -- just surviving in general really. Unfortunately, the longer I fight this disease, the more I am going to feel this. I don’t see it going away and I don’t want it to. I don’t want to become numb to it. We have an entire army cheering us on whether we are fighting for our life or having an incredible response to our treatment -- maybe even we are celebrating “no evidence of disease”.

Our story is ours’. I think it’s ok to feel guilt sometimes, but I think we have to channel that into our own lives into a place of fighting harder. Find the positive and the silver lining somehow. I am trying to find it.

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