Survivor's Guilt is a common, very uncomfortable feeling--and a complete waste of time and energy. I hear some version of this reaction almost every day. In groups, women who have had "less" cancer (meaning an earlier stage and less needed treatment) can too easily feel guilty about complaining to women who have endured much more. Even in my group for women with advanced cancer, someone who has "only" bone mets can feel strangely lucky in comparison to someone who is going through treatment for brain mets. Survivor's Guilt clearly applies at all levels of the cancer experience.
Even when I meet individually with someone (and this is mostly what I do), she often speaks of how "lucky" she is that things aren't worse. I appreciate that this is partly an attempt to reassure one's self. It becomes a problem (for me at least), when it crosses over into feeling badly about complaining or worrying or distress. As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely nothing lucky about having any kind of cancer. We have all been dealt an unwanted blow by Fate, and none of us have a promise about the future. It is not exactly comforting to remember that cancer is tricky and powerful, and sometimes people, who had an early stage diagnosis and were expected to do fine, die quickly while others, who had a much more dire beginning, live well for decades. We just don't know what is going to befall us tomorrow.
Cancer is hard enough for everyone. It does matter, of course, what the details are, as the specifics dictate the treatment we will receive and the prognostic statistics that will haunt us. Every treatment is difficult, and no one's situation needs to trump someone else's. I am certain we are all in the same rocky cancer boat and are pulling those oars with all our strength--hoping to get ourselves and everyone in the boat with us to the safety of a calm harbor.
Here are some other thoughts about this from Heather Millar:
Survivor Guilt? Why You Should Let It Go
By Heather Millar
Survivor guilt is a theme I see frequently when I visit online support groups:
“I feel bad complaining about my cancer, I know it could be so much worse.”
“I had this dear friend in my support group. She died last month. I feel so guilty that I’m still here.”
“My cancer was only Stage I. As I finish treatment, why do I feel so tired and depressed? Am I just a
I get these feelings, too. My cancer was Stage I. Because its pathology was really bad, I did everything:
surgeries, chemo and radiation.
While cancer is by far the scariest and most difficult experience of my life to this point, I heard many
stories from my support group that were far worse than my own – stories that made my hair stand on end:
Women who ended up in the hospital because of the side effects of chemo. Radiation burns that actually
blistered and got infected. Reconstruction surgeries after mastectomy that went terribly wrong: infections,
mistakes, multiple hospitalizations.
When it was my turn to talk, I sometimes felt sheepish. I’d make excuses, “Okay, I know this isn’t as bad as
some of the things we’ve heard today…”