“Survivor's guilt” is defined as “when someone doesn’t believe that they should be alive after surviving a traumatic event when others did not.” It was most commonly seen in Holocaust survivors and war veterans. However, it can affect anyone during or after ANY life-changing event. It is a reaction to a loss, a normal response to a life event.
Cancer, PTSD, and survivor's guilt
We are living longer with all types of cancer now, and research seems to show that a lot of patients are now beginning to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) AND survivor's guilt (as if we haven’t got enough on our plates).
Cancer treatment can be brutal. I still suffer from flashbacks from having my port fitted. I cannot even bear to touch that area of my body to this day. The side effects of treatments also knock us for six (knock us out), whether its BCG, chemo or radiation. Cancer is a life-changing illness!
Making friends with others going through cancer
On this journey, we tend to make friends with others going through the same things as us, and we bond deeply and hard with them. Our friendships become important, and we cling to them like a baby clinging to his mother.
In my case, I was told I was going to die, pretty soon after diagnosis. I had counseling to help me come to terms with that fact; my family had counseling to come to terms with that, too. We experienced the stages of grief, we worked through what we had to do to get “my affairs in order.” Only, I haven’t died. I am still here, living and breathing.
Why am I still here?
Of course, I am thrilled to still be here, and to have become a Nana this year - it was my greatest wish. However, I do get extreme feelings of guilt. Why me? Why am I still here when I see and hear of people dying with this evil disease? And some people and friends who have done such good things? Friends, who I deem to be ‘better’ than me. Friends, who have contributed a lot to life!
I have made some wonderful friends on this journey, some who are still here and some who aren’t. Every time a friend dies, be it an online friend or a ‘real-life’ friend, I grieve. I cry, I get angry, and I then ask myself: What makes me so ‘special’ to still be here?
There is no answer
The answer is… there is no answer. There is no rhyme nor reason to why some people survive with cancer and some don’t. We need to acknowledge this point: it isn’t because that person didn’t “fight the cancer enough” or “be positive enough.” It isn’t because you are “better than them” or they are “less worthy of life” than you. It is because… CANCER IS A ______________! Insert your swearword of choice here.
Cancer doesn't follow a rule book
You see, cancer doesn’t follow a rule book; it does what it wants, it takes who it wants, and it leaves others struggling with health and psychological issues. I tend to battle with my feelings - one minute I think I will make my life the BEST life ever, living every single moment with passion and vigor, and the next, I am waiting to die. (I haven’t been told that I am in remission, I have just been told, for now, there is no cancer present.) It is the constant black cloud hanging over us. It is a struggle, knowing that this cancer will get me eventually, and watching my friends and colleagues succumb to this disease.
I still have things to do
I often feel guilty that I am not making the most out of my days, that I am not living my life to the fullest, but can we please be practical for a moment? Financially, we simply cannot afford to live to the fullest. Some days, I am just at home, cleaning and tidying the house, just as normal, because these things still need to be done. I may be “living with dying,” but I still have things to do.
There are days when I feel unable to “do things.” Days when my husband has to take over and help to run the house, on top of his full-time, demanding job. I hold a lot of guilt from this and have thought on many occasions perhaps it would have been better if I had died! (It has taken me around two weeks to finish that sentence off but it is how I feel.)
Living in purgatory
If I had died, my Hubby and Son would be grieving, they would be processing those feelings and yet instead, we are living in purgatory - never quite knowing if this bout of “sickness or illness” will finish me off! I feel so bad for them, having to watch my decline, and I know it affects them both badly.
I feel guilty for putting them through this, for my dear friends having to put up with my ailing health which includes me canceling plans at the last minute because I really don’t feel great. For the 50 million times that they have asked “how are you?” and what’s to report? That this broken and decrepit body is still here and still fighting; however, my quality of life spends on what day it is.
I feel like a fraud
I'm sure that some “friends” wonder why I am still here? I’m sure they wonder why I am not dead, and you can almost hear them asking “accusingly” about my health. I feel like a fraud, I feel like I’m an imposter ...
What can I say other than I am here despite the rubbish prognosis, and I don’t have the answers... I just have a lot of guilt!
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