Survivor’s Guilt

One year ago today, I went in for surgery.  I wasn’t sure what to expect – doctors had told me it wasn’t likely cancer, but what other explaination could there be?  Even after surgery, I had no answers.. It wasn’t until a week later that I received the call telling me that I had cancer.  (To read more about my story, you can visit

The past week has been filled with a barrage of emotions.  Some reminding me of what I went through a year ago, some reminding me how lucky I am to be here enjoying the holiday season, and still others leaving me wondering why I have been so lucky and others have not.  In a period of 24 hours, I was engaged in conversations and situations that did all three.

Tuesday evening I received a phone call from a friend who had, by chance, met a young mother who had been diagnosed with Ovarian and Uterine Cancer. I spoke to the young woman for a bit and hearing her story reminded me how I felt after I was diagnosed.  Scared, Worried, Angry, wondering why I had this awful disease.  Would I survive it?  Would it return?  How would this experience scar my children?  Now, a year later, I have been able to somewhat overcome those fears and anxieties.  I still think about whether or not it will return, but I’m not trembling in fear anymore.  I’m not angry.  I have survived and I have made peace with the “why me” emotions. I have found a purpose in the way my life has gone.  I regret the time that cancer took from me, the memories that I missed because I was too tired or sick to participate.  But even more than that, I am thankful for all that I have learned along the way.  I am in a good place… most of the time.

The next day, I happened to strike up a conversation with a woman who had lost her mother several weeks before.  The holiday season was going to be very difficult for her.  Coincidentally, her mother died from Ovarian Cancer.  We talked briefly about her mother’s battle and she spoke to me of her fears for herself and her daughter.  Ovarian cancer can be hereditary, and it can increase ones risk of developing breast cancer.  So I mentioned genetic testing, which he had not heard of.  We wished each other a Merry Christmas and went our separate ways.  But she stayed with me long after.

The same morning, I discovered that one of the ladies I met early in my journey had been told there was nothing more that could be done for her.  I first met her at a support group right after I was diagnosed.  I would then occasionally see her in the chemo lounge during treatments or blood work sessions.  She has fought a long fight, even trying experimental treatments, traveling hundreds of miles to specialists.  She did all of this with a smile on her face and a word or two of encouragement for the rest of us.  Ovarian Cancer is a horrible disease.  It is often caught in late stages, it can spread rapidly and the rate of recurrence and survival rate can be frightening.  Since my diagnosis, I have met several women who were survivors, or who were also battling Ovarian Cancer.  I am sorry to say that several of them have lost their battle.

Ovarian Cancer is always “with me”, but on that day it was haunting me.  I thought I had a handle on my emotions.  I am moving on, feeling great, enjoying life. But I realized that as a survivor, my part of the story isn’t over.  I will watch as others are diagnosed, fight, and hopefully prevail.  But I will also watch as many will lose their battle.  It’s the nature of the disease itself.  There is almost a sense of guilt that I am able to move on and call myself a “survivor”, while so many cannot.  I am torn at times.  I feel so lucky to have caught my cancer early, so lucky to have a good prognosis, so lucky to be cancer-free.  But how can I feel so happy when others are still fighting for their lives?

Survivor’s Guilt: a deep feeling of guilt often experienced by those who have survived some catastrophe that took the lives of many others; derives in part from a feeling that they did not do enough to save the others who perished and in part from feelings of being unworthy relative to those who died.

I guess that probably sums it up… I wish I could do more.  I wish I could tell these ladies that I will honor their memories throughout my life and that I will always work to raise awareness so that others can escape this fate.  A dear friend of mine helped to put this in perspective for me.  She said, “I love my Teal Sisters (Ovarian Cancer Survivors) more than I hate this disease.  Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel and divorce myself from it – but if people like us don’t try to do something, who will?”

So, to every survivor: I am honored to be in your company.  To those we have lost:  I will honor your memory by living my life to the fullest and knowing that it is a precious gift.  To those who are fighting:  I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers, you are already a survivor!


Leave a Comment