Survivor’s Guilt and “Noel”

After posting about missing the “downtime” of chemotherapy, I need to talk about how much of a privilege it is to be here writing that. I get to reminisce about the positives of being allowed to have no other job but to rest and recover.

Sometimes I complain about chemo brain, sometimes I wonder why *I* got cancer when those who take worse care of themselves seem to get off scott-free. I’ve left the initial fears about death behind me. Yes, my cancer may come back, but right now I’m in a good place with a good prognosis. My reality is that I will be able to enjoy this holiday season and focus on being with family, feeling physically healthy and “normal” again.

I have friends who are currently going through treatment. And you can bet that they would give anything to not have to be there, in the same way that I would have when it was happening to me. Some of my friends may eventually get to the place that I am now; for others, this may be the last stage of their lives.

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“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”   ~Gandalf, The Return of the King

This is not lost on me. In fact, it’s something that I think about a lot. As we approach Thanksgiving, I am very grateful that I’m doing well, not even a full year after completing my last treatment. In addition to my gratitude, however, I carry a lot of guilt. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. And many will be diagnosed with other cancers or other life-threatening illnesses. At any given time, there are so many of us going through the shock, fear and psychological and physical suffering of various treatments. How can I complain about my lingering discomforts when I have the pleasure of being here and experiencing them?

There are many things that could have been worse for me. But they weren’t. The more time that passes, the less I worry about why I got cancer and wonder more why I am one of the fortunate ones. As difficult as it is to put my cancer experience behind me and move on as if nothing happened, it’s even harder to do so knowing that I am leaving behind others who will not make it.

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I’ve met a lot of fellow cancer patients in the infusion room, some with metastatic cancer. There’s one in particular I cannot forget. I’ll call her “Noel” since I met her heading into the 2017 holiday season and her mother privately told me that she wasn’t expected to survive past Christmas. Noel was a friendly and sweet woman with aggressive breast cancer. We chatted about hair regrowth as mine was just barely beginning to come back, and she shared with me Facebook photos of what her hair looked like after her first breast cancer treatments were completed. Eighteen months later, the cancer had returned with a vengeance. Noel was divorced with two pre-adolescent daughters. Her mother told me that as Noel’s situation deteriorated, it also devastated her daughters, who were witnesses to their mother’s decline. Luckily, their father was very supportive and provided as much care and love as he could.

I was heartbroken as I left the infusion room that day. I don’t know ultimately what happened to Noel, although I expect the worst. Cancer is a horrible beast that ravages the patient, but also takes the family down with it. I think, “What a blessing to not have to go through that.” But that thought catches on my conscience. I’m still here; do I deserve to be?

Recounting this story a year later, that guilt weighs even heavier now. I feel an obligation to make good use of the time remaining.

Author: franticshanti

Why so serious?

5 thoughts on “Survivor’s Guilt and “Noel””

  1. I wrote an article very similar to this a couple months ago. Let me be the first to tell you here, you do deserve to be here and we are not responsible for the fate of others. We can make good use of our fortune though. I am 6 months into maintenance treatment with 18 months to go and so far I’ve ran 2 campaigns with a national cancer organization in Canada and will be doing another with a US organization next month. I am guest speaking at a cancer research awards ceremony tomorrow in Toronto, I’m guest speaking at a local event for 500 people in benefit of a Cancer Assistance program and Princess Margaret hospital in Toronto, am being published in a US magazine (actually my article on survivors guilt) and my story will be published in a new Canadian Cancer magazine this month in the first issue. All in the name of raising awareness and helping to make fellow patients feel less alone through their journey. The power is within us to do this and being through what we’ve been through can give us the fire to do it too.
    Good luck in your journey. 🙂

    Like

    1. Michelle, Thanks again for your kind words (sorry, for some reason your comment ended up in my spam inbox!). It is extremely helpful to know that I’m not alone in feeling like this. Sometimes I’m embarrassed that I’m doing so well, and it’s so strange to say that, given that a year ago I felt that I was fighting for my life. I’m so glad that this issue is getting more attention and that you have those opportunities to spread the word. As more and more of us survive cancers that would have claimed our lives in the past, more and more will be feeling this way and need support. Congratulations on getting published! You are truly making a difference.

      I realize that Canada already celebrated Thanksgiving, but as the US prepares to do so, I am grateful for all your efforts. All the best to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on So You've Got Acute Blood Cancer…Join The Club! and commented:
    Another article written about survivors guilt. So similar to my own experience. We can empathize and feel compassion for the less fortunate but we do deserve to be here. We’ve been through hell. We fought to be here and call it luck of the draw, we got another crack at this thing called life…we do deserve it. I vow to make it worth it too.

    Like

  3. God bless you, Michelle. I am so grateful my husband is in remission. 4 months now and I pray every day he remains that way. My heart breaks for others who are less fortunate.

    Like

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