Lois Hjelmstad

Lois Hjelmstad.com

Compassion and courage for the times you need it.


This morning I read a great post by Dr. Ann Becker Schutte about survivor's guilt. It is difficult to see other breast cancer patients diagnosed with metastasis. (However, not nearly as hard for us as it is for them.) It is hard to see loved ones die as we remain NED and very much alive. And I have often felt that as we "celebrate" our survival we are somehow dishonoring those who have not survived.

While I certainly have had my share of "survivor's guilt," sometime I think of it this way:

Eventually everyone has illness, sorrow, death in their life. Everyone's turn comes. My guilt does not remove the suffering of the person about whom I feel guilty. My sorrow does not heal those who are bereaved – they still have to travel that journey as best they can. And I definitely believe that I should help where I can and empathize when I can, but I have also realized that my turning myself inside out to do so doesn't necessily translate into the other person's being made whole.

My turn has been here before and will come again. Meanwhile, I try not to spoil the good fortune of a given moment when a good moment appears.

These are just some of my thoughts. Dr. Becker Schutte's post and the many wise comments will probably help you a lot more!


4 Responses

  1. Lois,

    Thanks for mentioning my article–I am so glad that you found it helpful. I really appreciate your reframe of surviving–it’s an important thing to remind ourselves that some type of pain and struggle is present in everyone’s life. We can’t (and shouldn’t) sacrifice our moments of joy–because doing so doesn’t erase the pain that others will face.


  2. Lois, thank you for writing about this important topic. It’s something many of us grapple with, and your wise take on it will go a long way toward easing that struggle.

  3. Thanks for your words of wisdom, Lois. I do struggle with survivor’s guilt from time to time. I do hesitate to use the survivor label, although I do use it as there doesn’t seem to be a word choice that’s a whole lot better. I don’t think not calling myself a survivor means I am sacrificing anything, though, or that I’m not enjoying moments of joy. I guess it just makes me uncomfortable, so why “wear” it?

  4. I like how you view this important issue, Lois. The guilt will not help us to heal from our own trauma. When someone complains about a hangnail, I try not to minimalize it, but look at it from that person’s perspective. I try not to judge how insensitive they are and refrain from asking why they don’t feel some guilt over the fact that I had cancer twice and they never had it. I try to use their view to realize I don’t need to agonize over the fact that someone has mets and I don’t. Thanks for your wisdom. xxx

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