I feel immense guilt for surviving cancer. I feel guilt because I didn’t lose my fertility and didn’t want to have children anyway. I feel guilt because my body handled treatment better than others. The weight of this guilt makes me want to live each day to the fullest for those who can’t, but it also cripples me some days.
Survivor guilt isn’t anything new. Soldiers coming back from combat who lost a comrade have reported feeling guilty for being the one to survive. Isn’t it natural to feel a little bad that you happened to be the one that lived?
And that’s what treatment is – it’s a crap shoot. No one knows the outcome when you go into it. Just because a certain treatment plan worked for one person (or one hundred people) doesn’t mean it will work for you.
So you have to ask yourself – why me? Why did this treatment work on me? Why am I so lucky? It’s not because I fought harder – anyone going through treatment is fighting for their life. It’s because the cells that made up my cancer happened to be weaker.
I’m grateful to be alive; I’m thankful to have limited lasting side effects, I’m grateful I get to marry the love of my life later this year. But I still feel guilty. I want anyone who has to endure this treatment, or this diagnosis, or anything: I want them to live. I want them to get to marry their love and enjoy sunny days in the park. I wish I had the power to make a medical discovery and fix it. To just get rid of cancer already.
But my only power is to make sure those of us that did survive are making certain that we appreciate it. And we enjoy it. And we figure out how to accept our new normal and keep forging on. So that’s what I’m going to do with my guilt.
And on days that I feel like I can’t take the weight of being a survivor anymore, the days I’m reminded I never have a “profound realization from surviving cancer” – I’ll remember to breathe in and out slowly. I’ll remember that I have friends and family who are so happy I’m still here and that is enough. I’ll stand outside and feel the sun on my skin and be so thankful to be outside. And I’ll rewatch old episodes of The Office and remember it’s okay to have bad days, and it’s okay just to sit and be sad about that as long as you make it further tomorrow.