There is something that I never would have predicted I would feel being a cancer survivor, let alone even knew about. And that is something called survivor's guilt. You're probably thinking that I'm making this up, right?!
You would think that surviving cancer would lend mostly positive feelings, such as gratitude and hope, or maybe even a sense of accomplishment, but there is this whole other side of being a survivor that can sometimes be hard to deal with. Fear is part of it. Fear of the cancer returning, fear of the unknown, fear of not having control over your body. But then there is also guilt. Guilt for living when others around you are dying. Guilt for having success with treatments when others aren't. Guilt for managing the disease well when maybe others have a difficult time and experience unpleasant side effects. It just doesn't seem fair.
My intention in writing about this is not to gain pity and sympathy. It is solely to explore this other side of "survivorship", so that others like myself may not feel alone, as I am sure that others out there that can relate to this sentiment.
It becomes especially difficult when you personally know people that are struggling to stay alive or maybe don't have the same outcome as you did. Unfortunately, for me, I know plenty of people who have had less than desirable outcomes with cancer and have passed on. It's even harder when it's the same kind of cancer. I always experience this pang of guilt and start questioning why they had to die and I survived. After all, what makes them any different than me?
For example, I recently wrote about my friend, Leslee's husband Jared. Jared was not much older than me. Jared had a wife and four young children. Jared was a good person. But yet, Jared lost his life to brain cancer. He was yanked from his family too soon. He wasn't even middle-aged! Yet, God had a different plan for him, a plan that maybe we don't comprehend at this point. So, why him and not me? We both have similar circumstances. We both have families, spouses, responsibilities, life to be lived!
And yet for some reason (maybe several reasons), I am still here. God is obviously not "done" with me yet. Ok, that sounded like I was getting fired from life or something, but you know what I mean. My time isn't up yet. I probably have a lot of lessons to still learn! I don't want this to sound like I'm ungrateful. Because trust me, I am NOT ungrateful. In fact, seeing others go before me (especially younger people) only makes me more grateful to be alive. But what sometimes accompanies that gratitude is this feeling of guilt. And it sometimes gets the best of me. I need to just focus on the positive and push the bad feelings out of my head (easier said than done).
The thing is that I KNOW that God has a plan for all of us. A very beautiful, unique, individualized plan that only He knows. His plan for us, I believe, will provide us with the most happiness and growth too. I also know that people die all the time, at all different ages, sometimes unexplained or at no fault of their own. Thus is life, right?! But yet, even with this knowledge, I still struggle with this guilt.
I guess the trick to balancing the good and the bad side of cancer survivorship is to always keep my priorities and perspective in check. To always come back to what I know and what I feel. And what I feel is incredible gratitude to be alive, to have a healthy body that is working, to be around for my husband and kids, and to enjoy life even despite the challenges that arise.