Survivor’s guilt… how it feels

Survivor’s guilt is a strange concept. But now I know how it feels.

Last year I had an aggressive mastectomy-bound Grade 3 breast cancer. Today I’m healed. And I feel guilty about that.  Guilty that I’m well and others aren’t.

How would you expect to feel after coming through the most difficult year of your life?  Thankful? Grateful?  Relieved?  Happy? Restored? Amazed? Positive?  You probably wouldn’t  add guilty to that list, yet that’s exactly how I feel a lot of the time.

Is it only me that feels this way? My husband doesn’t ‘get it’ at all.  He cannot comprehend why anyone would feel guilty for clawing their way back to health. For the past year that’s exactly how I’ve felt. Through chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy I’ve hung on in there and got through it one step, one day at a time.

And now I’m well. For the moment I’m well. That’s what makes cancer so difficult to live with/or without. The fact is you never know if or when it will return. With the treatment I’ve had, if it does, it will likely be more virulent than before.

‘Good to have you back to normal’ I’m regularly told. But I’m not ‘normal’. I don’t even know what ‘normal’ looks like now. I guess in time I’ll find a ‘new normal’. And as much guilt as I feel about dismissing cancer from my body, I’m not going ‘back there’ if I can help it.

One evening last year I shared a hospital room with another lady; we shared the same treatment plan. Same prognosis. I kept my body whole, she had part of hers removed. Why?

So many times I’ve wanted to shout out to the world ‘I’m healed!’ ‘Whatever I did worked!’ But I can’t, the guilty thoughts kick in, the ‘wondering how it will make xxxxx feel’ ‘She had a mastectomy, I didn’t. Her mother/sister/daughter/friend didn’t make it and I’m still here.’

It’s simply not fair, so I stay quiet. Life’s not fair, we were never told that it would be.

Shouting out loud

Yet… I long to encourage others. To share what I’ve learned. To fan their little glimmers of hope into flames. And say, loud and proud, that you are NOT your diagnosis, arm yourself for what’s ahead and give this your best.

I long to help ‘lift the veil’ of fear from cancer, to talk prevention, celebrate healing and face the guilt square on, with a resounding I MADE IT THROUGH.

I wonder if my guilt stems from compassion. Is it because I wish I could take others’ suffering away?  I know that me healing doesn’t mean that someone else will not. There isn’t a healing quota. It would be wonderful if everyone was healed, no guilt possible then!

Or maybe it comes from my faith, believing that God wants the best for the people that he made in his image, sad that His people don’t always get the best….  I’m passionate about trying to alleviate needless suffering.

I have learned that given the right tools our bodies were made to heal. So why do I feel guilty for giving mine what it needed and leaving my oncologist and surgeon amazed?

I should share what I did, believing that if I can use what I learned during my suffering then I have not suffered in vain.  I know that I have already helped a friend to have a happy, healthy third pregnancy after switching her family to a whole-food plant based diet. After a nightmare second pregnancy, during which she nearly died and her new-born had a low birth-weight, this one was a breeze.

I need to banish those guilt gremlins and get on with playing my part by sharing my story.