As I am rounding the corner and coming up on the end of my treatment, it seems like a fitting time for my next topic from my blog post bracket: Survivor’s Guilt. I have seen this topic mentioned by so many of the young adult cancer population who have lost friends to the very same cancers they themselves are surviving.
I can speak from personal experience how difficult it is to watch someone you care about be taken by this awful disease. Holding my husbands hand while he took his last breaths and succumbed to the very cancer that I had managed to keep at bay felt like cruel and unusual punishment. The big question so many, including myself, start to ask is why?
- Why did they have to die?
- Why did my cancer respond to treatment but theirs didn’t?
- Why did they relapse?
- Why am I still here?
- Why can’t we trade places?
- Why did this happen?
I know I have asked myself all of these questions and more. Luke and I had the same type of cancer, diagnosed around the same age, and went through the same initial treatment protocol. However, when it came time for us to have our bone marrow biopsies to see if we were in remission, the results varied. Luke was in remission but there was still some evidence of disease in his marrow while I was in complete remission.
This goes to show how cancer treatments are not a one size fits all and that what works for one person does not guarantee it will work for another. I follow the stories and experiences of many other cancer patients online, especially those with blood cancers, and have seen too many relapse and/or pass away and it never gets any easier.
I know I’m not the only one too. I have had to watch other fellow cancer survivors go through the same gut wrenching losses as they develop connections and bond with those going through the same experiences, only to have them ripped away. It doesn’t matter if we have never met these other souls, or if we merely watched them through a screen and connected with what they shared, the immense feelings of guilt at simply being alive can be overwhelming at times.
Survivor’s Guilt is not the easiest topic to talk about because I don’t want people to think that I wish I didn’t survive or that I am trying to make these losses all about me. It’s just that surviving presents a whole host of challenges that many don’t see or understand because you haven’t been there and I hope you never have to.
Let me break down the phrase “Survivor’s Guilt” for you.
Survivor: in the cancer world this can have many meanings to different people, but my favorite is that a survivor is anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer regardless of whether or not you receive treatment, that treatment works, you relapse, your cancer is chronic, or you are on end of life care. As soon as you hear them say that you have cancer, you become a survivor until the day that the cancer takes you. Whether you survive for 7 minutes or 67 years, you are still a survivor.
Guilt: I looked this definition up as It’s a hard word to pin down, but it boils down to: a feeling of deserving blame. What are we blaming ourselves for though? For not dying? When I think about it it seems ridiculous to feel like I deserve to be blamed for something out of my control, and yet it is still how I often feel.
I feel guilt for being able to live my life and move forward. There is a part of me that feels like I should be wallowing and not enjoying life because Luke, and all those who didn’t make it, can’t enjoy their life. This isn’t how it should be though. I know without a doubt that Luke would want me to go on to live my life to the absolute fullest. He would tell me to chase my dreams and to enjoy every moment I could. He would want me to continue on living because he can’t. I know this because it is exactly how I would feel too if the situation was reversed. Why then do we feel so guilty for living our lives?
I don’t have an answer to that question. All that I know is that we have to go on living our lives not only for ourselves, but also for those we have lost. We need to stop feeling so guilty for managing to survive this awful disease, and try to focus on living our lives to the fullest and finding ways to remember and honors those we have lost. That will always be easier said than done, I know, but we can try.
And of course, we need to continue Kicking Cancers Ass!