When you or a loved one are diagnosed with cancer, survival tops your priority list. As time passes, you meet other cancer patients. Some of them survive. Some of them die. Learning that one of your friends has died of cancer, always brings with it a sadness–and sometimes, guilt. It’s a phenomenon known as survivor’s guilt.
As a 5-year -survivor of stage IV lung cancer, my husband, Dan, tries to encourage others on their journey. I, in turn, try to encourage caregivers that there is hope. There are new treatments and new tools in the palliative care toolbox to help patients deal with the side effects of cancer treatments. There are also a lot of support groups and systems to help both patients and caregivers.
When it starts going bad.
We recently found out that someone we know “lost her battle with cancer.” I don’t even want to get into the controversy surrounding that statement. I don’t like it much, but for all intents and purposes, it works. We wonder if we lied to them. Why have we had the grace of this time, when others with terminal cancer don’t? Survivor’s guilt rears its ugly head.
In the back of your mind, you wonder if you were wrong to give hope. Did you sell them a bill of bad goods?
Another thing you wonder is, “Why are we so fortunate when they are going through this hell?” That can place a heavy load on your shoulders, that you were never meant to carry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people diminish their experience of living with cancer, just because theirs wasn’t staged IV. Anytime you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, it’s scary. Comparison is the devil’s playground. Nothing good ever came of it. So, avoid comparison at all costs.
As a caregiver and spouse, I also deal with the guilt of avoidance.
I tell friends of cancer patients to be there for them and support them. Yet, when survivor’s guilt kicks in, I find it hard to do, myself.
We have a friend, with the same diagnosis as my husband. She’s been through the ringer and lost more than I could ever imagine to this terrible disease. Her husband writes Caring Bridge posts that make me cry every time. In fact, when I get the alert that he’s posted an update, I dread reading it.
It’s so painful –and frightening.
I’m afraid of our future, and I get a glimpse of it in her story.
So I completely understand when people don’t know what to do with our pain and potential future.
When experiencing survivor’s guilt, it helps to:
- Remember that these feelings will come and go. They are just part of learning to cope with uncertainty and the arbitrary nature of cancer.
- Share your feelings with a trusted friend, Sometimes saying what you’re thinking out loud can do a lot to banish the boogie man of survivor’s guilt. If you can find a support group, you’ll soon discover that you aren’t the only to have these thoughts and feelings.
- Do unto others. Think about how you would feel in their shoes. You’d certainly never begrudge someone surviving. You want people to survive, even if you don’t. So, don’t feel guilty about surviving cancer or having a loved one who does. Live well and make it count!
What are YOUR thoughts?
I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it.
I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com.