Survivor's Guilt - Angry Together
Dedication: This article is dedicated to my godfather. Thank you, John, for teaching me about love, compassion, and authenticity.
I am one of the lucky ones. Specifically, I am one of the few that was diagnosed with early-stage ovarian cancer and given the gift of life 'after' cancer. During treatment, it's easy to feel alone and helpless. However, no one really talks about how that feeling never quite goes away, even after the initial shock and roller coaster of treatment.
Getting out on the other side is not the rainbows and butterflies we hope for. Although we look at ourselves as survivors, we also see ourselves as distant from other cancer patients. Let me explain.
Cancer affects all of us
Cancer finds its way into everyone's lives, whether it's yourself, a family member, a partner, or a friend. My first memory of cancer hitting home was when my godfather, John, was diagnosed with both Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma some 10 years ago.
While it felt like the world was closing in on my family, I watched him handle treatment with grace and positivity. I understood his reaction to be on-brand. He is a former professional football player, dentist, and loving father of 3. He is, without a doubt, the strongest person I know and a blessing to all who meet him.
His mindset remained consistent throughout many recurrences despite the fear surrounding him. I respected his outlook on life, and as such, it made it easier for us to cope with his situation.
He gave me strength
After I was diagnosed, I instantly felt closer to him. He reached out to me, explaining that he is supporting me and that I will get through it. He had survived cancer 3 times over. If he could do it, so could I.
However, I became angry at the universe when I got better, but his cancer recurred for the 4th time. Things changed for me.
I was no longer proud of myself or eager to wake up another day and continue following my dreams. John has done so many amazing things in his life and could do so much more.
Why is his life being stripped away rather than someone else? I began to hate myself for making my diagnosis such a big deal.
The anger spread
But John's reaction was not the same this time. He was angry. The doctors were running out of answers, suggesting clinical trials, requiring long, draining trips across the country to buy him time.
My dad said it is difficult watching his best friend become someone he doesn't recognize. But I don't think that's true. I think he finally feels free to be genuine.
John gave himself permission to be angry, hopeless, and everything in between. He was no longer afraid to hide behind positive affirmations. He put himself first and felt everything he was afraid to feel before. But that doesn't mean these feelings came out of nowhere. They've been there all along, and he's never let his emotions dictate how he lived his life. He continues to be an amazing father to his children even though he wishes he had more time with them.
Although he is in pain from treatment and resents the diagnosis, he still gives my father great advice when he needs it. He showed his face on the beach every day during vacation this year and made his friends laugh despite the tears he cries. He was happy for me to see a year in remission while he is experiencing another recurrence.
Living a meaningful life despite feeling angry about cancer
After all of that, it hit me. You can feel anything you want about cancer and still live a meaningful life.
The guilt is going to come; you cannot stop it. You can only begin to understand its purpose. Guilt comes to protect us from feeling the negative emotions we are discouraged from paying attention to.
However, negative opinions about our cancer experience do not prevent us from living a fulfilling life. They give us the opportunity to move through our experiences with honesty, humility, and openness.
Being accepting of all the bad gives us more room for the good to come in. When you finally allow yourself to feel the lows, the highs of life become higher. So let's be angry together.
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