I have one friend who is facing a new diagnosis of lung cancer while another friend is nearing the end of her fight with ovarian cancer. It seems to be all around me. And I’m struggling with survivor’s guilt.
Wikipedia defines survivor’s guilt as “a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.” Typically this refers to survivors of combat, terrorist attack, and natural disasters; and it can be a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But it is also a common feeling that cancer survivors face.
While I consider myself a fighter and not a survivor per se, I, too, am struggling with this issue. Since I have been re-diagnosed, I’ve had three friends pass away from their cancer battles. One was five years younger than me. I continue to see her mother regularly, and feel guilty every time I do. I was diagnosed with cancer the first time before her, had it come back, and yet still outlived her.
Fortunately I’m not alone in this struggle. A simple Google search for “cancer patients and survivor’s guilt” brings up a number of articles on the topic, and how it can be mitigated. In fact, when I brought it up with my social worker, she reassured me that it is a very common feeling. She also encouraged me to do/remember several things to ease the guilt:
- Acknowledge the feeling by writing it down; but then write down why feeling is unrealistic and why those feelings don’t help those grieving the loss of their loved ones.
- Think of those who would be devastated by my loss.
- My survival is a gift. Share it with my loved ones.
- Live in honor of those whose lives were taken by cancer. I deserve every moment of my life, just as they did.
As I mentioned in my last post, my social worker also gave me a list of suggestions of things to do with my family in the time I have left. Some ideas include:
- Schedule a day long photo shoot in our favorite spots around town or any other family favorite destination. These photos would be used in a photobook/scrapbook that could be a beautiful dedication to my family. Include letters to each other in the book, nick names, funny stories, etc.
- Ask each family member and friend to choose an activity or fun place they want to go with me alone and set dates for these things.
- Write down all of the things I feel like I want/need to see in the world.
- Think of my ultimate family vacation (there are organizations willing to cover some or all of the costs associated with this).
- Record lots of videos — pictures are amazing, but hearing voices is so incredibly soothing when you are missing someone.
- Make a quilt/scrap blanket together as a family. It will be memories made while making it and then it will keep everyone warm physically and emotionally for years to come.
- Make a Family Recipe Book. Cook family dishes together, or find new dishes and cook them as a family. Take pictures and write-up the recipes. It can be passed on to my son’s wife someday.
These are all amazing suggestions, and I plan on carrying out most — if not all — of them. It will keep me busy and focused on my family and dear friends, which is what makes me happiest. Will I still feel survivor’s guilt? Probably. I know myself and my depression, and this is likely something my depression would eat up like candy. But I’ll continue to fight against it as I make memories with my family and friends.
So tell me, if you had the opportunity to spend time with me, what would you want to do?