Life after cancer: survivor's guilt

Life after cancer: survivor's guilt
This is Steve DeLuca. His blog is "God is My Running Partner" and he is a 10-year cancer survivor

Dear Steve,

A few weeks ago you wrote a blog post, so full of anguish it felt like an entity in my room. It was about survivor guilt. You, like me, are in remission. You’ve survived for 10 years after an intense experience with Stage 3 colon cancer. There are moments, I know, when that feels joyful. And I know that you feel gratitude because you express it frequently.

Maybe like me, the joy leaks out through the cracks made by attending funerals and knowing the suffering of friends who haven’t or aren’t going to survive their cancer. Some people ask, “Why me?” when they get cancer. You and I, however, both ask, “Why me?” about being in remission.

I just got an all clear this week. I’m officially at the one year anniversary of the NED status, “no evidence of disease.” I’ll remain on close surveillance for another year, going in every three months for a cystoscopy. I’ll also have a CT scan in January. After that I’ll graduate to every six months. You know the drill better than I do.

I don’t know if you felt the same way I’ve been feeling after going in for scans and tests post treatment. I get completely wound up with fear and anxiety before the tests. When the good news has come, though, I don’t feel excitement or thrill or happiness. I hear people say that they do the “happy dance.” I confess that I don’t. I usually feel relief, but it takes a week or so for the fear and anxiety to relax enough for me to really feel anything truly positive.

Part of that is just the nature of stress. It takes time. But, it’s even harder to celebrate when you’re deeply and closely involved in the cancer community.

I met a guy on Tuesday who has cancer in his jaw. The surgery to remove the tumor has left him unable to eat or swallow. I don’t know if it’s the surgery or the chemo, but his salivary glands don’t function, and they may never function. Whether he goes into remission or not, he’ll always carry the damage that cancer has caused him. Another guy, with a similar cancer, said that just smelling food was excruciating.

I know two people in hospice. I know two people who have died in the past month. There are a handful in my group that are reaching the end of known treatments.

In the midst of this suffering, it’s hard to do happy dances. Let me be clear. None of these people would begrudge me the joy. In fact, I think they feel more joy for me than I do for myself.

But when we go around the room and introduce ourselves I feel embarrassed to say that I’m in remission. I almost feel like I should apologize. But you know what? That does a disservice to me and to them. Remission is a visible sign of hope. Especially your remission.

You are the embodiment of hope that cancer can be controlled and life can go joyfully on.I’m committed to being an advocate for people with cancer. My health allows me the energy to give back to the community. People like you model that positive, constructive behavior.

Thanks for being out there and for living a parallel but unique life committed to celebrating life and health. Thanks also for sharing your sorrow, for being willing to speak, and for risking continued involvement with the cancer community.

Here’s to life,

Kerri

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