Survivor Guilt

There’s no doubt that living with cancer for the best part of 14 years means I suffer from survivor guilt at times. I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs since I became a stage 4 patient in 2010, but right now I am treatment free and somehow I feel like I’m a fraud. I know I am one of the lucky ones right now but it doesn’t feel like it at times. It’s hard not to feel guilty about how I feel when people around me are dying.

In recent weeks, a number of people I’ve been following on social media with cancer have died. How is it fair that some people die within a year or two or diagnosis, but others like me live for almost a decade? No one deserves to suffer at the hands of this awful disease.

Over the years I’ve also followed stories of fellow stage 4 melanoma patients who have since sadly passed away. Some blogs I’ve found very useful, Dear Melanoma and Wrestling Melanoma provided me with a lot of information and comfort when I first began writing my own blog, despite not knowing them in real life. Following stories like theirs online has been both a blessing and a curse. I feel sad when I hear news about others, but selfishly I am also very frightened.

These stories have touched so many lives, both with or without cancer and have certainly inspired me with their strength, resilience and overall positivity. The truth is, as hard as it can be, we could all take a lot from people sharing their experiences.

It’s hard to comprehend that people at my stage in life are being taken from this world in such a cruel way. Even if age wasn’t a factor its still so unfair. I will always have the fear within me that I’ll be next one.

I initially felt guilt because I was convinced I could have done something to prevent my cancer; guilt for all the stress its caused my family over the years; guilt for surviving when fellow cancer patients have died, especially when they have had a similar diagnosis to me. Why do some drugs work well for one person but not another? I’ve also felt really guilty for taking time off work, particularly when I’ve been on long term sick leave. I hated not being reliable!

Overall I just feel guilt for being unwell in the first place. Now I am not on any immunotherapy drugs I don’t look unwell, and I worry people must think I was over exaggerating about my experiences. People don’t expect me to look ill so much anymore, but I shouldn’t have to feel bad about looking and feeling well. Not everyone knows what its like behind closed doors.

I feel guilty for being well right now; and I’ve felt guilty when I’ve been worse off and been a burden. I just can’t win! I thought it would get easier being off treatment, however I now have a whole other set of feelings to navigate. It’s tricky to shake off the labels I’ve been given as a cancer patient, especially as I am currently walking the line between sufferer and survivor. The majority of my adult life has been so uncertain until now, so its a a huge adjustment.

6 thoughts on “Survivor Guilt

  1. I’m brand new to all of this. But I can relate to your part where you said you don’t look unwell. when I told an acquaintance what I will be going through with my retinal melanoma she looked at me and said well I don’t see anything in your eyes so it mustn’t be bad. I was shocked at that point and did not even know how to reply so I just said yeah you’re probably right and ended the conversation. I wish you well and I will be following your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jennifer, that is really shocking, but i am sure the person meant no harm by it. I think its hard for people to understand when they’re not going through it, its tricky to know what to say.

      Best of luck to you xx

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  2. Hi Jo, you should congratulate yourself for bearing up under the pressure that you’ve dealt with. We can only look as far ahead as the next day and take it one day at a time. Your doing well 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read your latest post with great interest Jo. You should not feel guilty for surviving, many more cancer patients are these days. One thing my therapist said to me in a session way back in 2000 was the only difference between a cancer patient and someone without the disease is that cancer patients know life is uncertain. Some of us clearly have something in our immune system that keeps melanoma at bay (I’ve been in remission since 2000 and I am stage 3 localised spread). I recently took part in a research project at St Thomas’. They took 7 lots of blood because they were investigating there might be something in the antibodies in my blood which might have led to my unexpected lengthy remission. Life is just uncertain.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jolene, you’ve had an array of feelings building up for ten years plus, so it’s only natural that they will take some time to subside , I’m sure that if you continue as you are at the present time they will slowly diminish. Love and support. Bob XX

    Liked by 1 person

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