The topic of the day, stimulated by this essay from the New York Times, is guilt. None of us were strangers to this feeling long before we had cancer, but the diagnosis seems to bring on several new strains. There is the guilt we feel for brining this pain and sadness and worry to those whom we most love. It seems especially ironic vis a vis our children. We are committed to protecting them and shielding them from hurt, and then, completely not by choice, we bring this enormous problem into their lives. There is also survivor's guilt that we may feel when we compare our relatively fortunate situation with someone who is more ill. In some cancer support groups, there are latent feelings about who has it worse and guilt on the part of those who seem to have been luckier. I try always to address these feelings very frankly, and remind us all that no one gets a promise of sustained good health, and we all share the same fears--whether we are diagnosed with Stage III breast caner or DCIS. It is interesting, and another topic, that the specific diagnosis does not seem to impact the intensity of the feelings.
Back to guilt. There are a lot of jokes about culturally-linked guilt (Jewish guilt, Italian guilt, etc), but the reality is that it is very individual and more family-linked. If you were raised by parents who employed guilt as a method of behavior control, you likely are more vulnerable to it now. We all have things in our life which are reasonably linked to some guilt (Did I study enough for that important exam? Why did I never write a thank you letter to my aunt for the birthday gift? etc), but cancer is not one of them.
Here is the beginning and then a link:
Life, Interrupted: Feeling Guilty About Cancer
By SULEIKA JAOUAD Ashley Woo
Guilt, like cancer, is a greedy guest feasting on its host. It is nondiscriminatory. We have all felt it, wondered what it was doing there, willed it to go away.
I'm aware that feeling guilty about having cancer is more than a little irrational. But when it comes to cancer, guilt is a mercurial, equal-opportunity burden that affects both patients and caretakers.
The topic of guilt came up during a support group meeting for young adults with cancer. I was comforted to hear that everyone in the room felt some form of guilt related to their cancer. I certainly had. From the day I received my diagnosis, guilt has been a steady and quiet companion on my journey.
In the outpouring of love I've gotten since I began writing about my disease, guilt has never been too far away. Intermixed in the spectacular and candid messages of support, I've also received dozens of apologies from friends, classmates, and acquaintances who feel guilty for not being in touch or not realizing what I have been going through. Some people feel guilty just for being healthy when I am sick.
Sometimes, guilt is a self-inflicted wound. Although I know I shouldn't, I feel guilty about being a burden on others, taking up too much "space" with my problems and causing pain to those I love. How could I not? I trust that others with cancer know what I mean.