Dealing with Survivor's Guilt
The following essay is from the NPR My Cancer weekly podcast:
Talk to anyone who's been in combat and it's a pretty good bet they've felt it. In the immediate rush after the shooting stops, you can feel more alive than you ever have before. It's the sheer joy of having survived. Your senses are sharper; the air is crystal clear. It's only afterward that it sinks in: Not everyone makes it; not everyone survives. That's where "survivor's guilt" comes in.
In some ways, I feel like I've been in a fight that has lasted for a year and a half. Now the guns are silent, even if it's just for a short time. The Radio Frequency Ablation treatments killed the tumors in my lungs. I can say now that I have no active tumors in my body. At least none that are big enough to detect. To say that I am lucky is a huge understatement. I never thought I'd be in this position.
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, one of the first questions they usually wrestle with is, "Why me?" Why was I singled out? Why am I sick when others aren't? But it's not very long before we all realize that this is the wrong question. "Why not me?" is just as fair. There really are no answers to either question. "Why" isn't the point. We have cancer; we have to deal with it. We have to look ahead.
Now that I find myself in this position — of appearing for the moment to have beaten this thing — I find myself returning to that first question: Why me? Why was I so lucky? Why have I gotten a break, when so many others have not? Why can't we all survive?
I guess I do have some survivor's guilt. Though it's not guilt, really. It's more a feeling of deep sadness. Not for myself, but for all of you who haven't gotten good news, who are not going to beat this, even for a little while. There was no answer to, "Why me?" in the beginning. There's no answer now.
Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled to be where I am. I don't know what's in my future. None of us do. But through this ordeal, we have all been walking the same road, shoulder to shoulder. We all faced the same fears, the same challenges, the same heartbreak. And we all learned lessons we couldn't learn any other way.
Now I feel as if I've stepped off that road. Maybe it's just to rest a little while before I start walking again. Or maybe my path will be a different one. I just know how hard all of you have fought, and how hard you fight every day. I just wish I could bring you to where I am now. You've earned that.