As we all all coming off of the excitement and possible exhaustion of the holidays to ring in the New Year, the LBBC Blog is happy to welcome back recurring writer, Randi Rentz, and she discusses a topic that many diagnosed women have experienced–Survivor’s Guilt–and how she plans to let it go. Along with Randi, we here at LBBC wish everyone a beautiful and joyous New Year with health, happiness and hope in the future.
Have you ever wondered why you were diagnosed with cancer? If you have, stop it right now! I’m serious. I’ve never wondered why I was diagnosed with cancer. I can truly say that is an honest statement. Many people have asked me, “Why on earth would you, a young, healthy, happy person with no family history of breast cancer get breast cancer?” Even when other people wondered, I never have. In my mind and heart I figured that “Why?” wasn’t the point. I had “The Big C.” I had to deal with it. I had to move on and look ahead.
Since my diagnosis, I have had four friends die of cancer and another one who will die soon. All were young, healthy and happy people. Some had no family history, while others did have a family history.
My question is: “Why did I get what I got (a treatable cancer) and they get what they got (a life limiting form of cancer)?” Do you know I think about this Every. Single. Day. Sometimes this thought makes me feel so morose. Sometimes it makes me feel anxious. Sometimes it makes me feel remorseful.
As I think about my friend who is fading, I’ve come to realize what’s going on: I am experiencing a version of survivor guilt, yet again. It is common to feel guilty about having survived when others died. Now, this typically refers to catastrophic events such as 911 or an earthquake or some other disaster (no reason to go on with examples and make myself feel shoddier!). I happen to think that a cancer diagnosis (of any kind!) is pretty darn earth shattering. Don’t you? When I received my diagnosis, my world stopped. Completely.
What I’ve learned is that this feeling of guilt is part of being human. For me, it is a way of searching for the meaning of my survival vs. another person’s fatality. Normalizing these feelings doesn’t necessarily make me feel better, though. There are no two ways to say it. Anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis is forever changed. There. I said it.
When I lost my first friend to cancer, I felt paralyzed. Sessions with a social worker helped me be productive and rational. I certainly did not want to continue to go down an unfortunate road every time I lost someone I cared about.
Today, I admit my survivor guilt still brings a few issues. For some people, survivor guilt can cause despair, rage, and guilt that may even compromise their physical health and well-being. UGH.
Believe me I’m thrilled to be where I am. I’m able to speak to other people about cancer and their emotions and feel so fortunate. I really do. I don’t know what’s in my future. None of us does. I can tell you through this ordeal, I have faced uncertainties, challenges, and sorrow. I know that I have also learned lessons I couldn’t have learned any other way.
What I know for sure is that life is a precious gift; however after losing my mother to cancer, I actually already knew that…I guess it’s just been reiterated – in a BIG WAY. For now, it’s my time to live.