Pink Underbelly has an interesting post on her blog about a trip to her oncologist's office, ending with a paragraph on survivor's guilt.
I agree with her that it doesn't make sense to dwell on feeling guilty because we have been spared from dying of breast cancer. So far. Breast cancer is not a contest to see who has had the toughest time. It is a life-threatening disease that can recur at any time.
But twinges of survivor guilt do plague me from time to time.
And this is August, the month in 1991 that one of my best friends died. She refused nourishment from the beginning of the month, but didn't die until the end. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. Did she beat breast cancer and then die of stomach cancer? Or did she die of metastasized breast cancer? I'm not sure I know. She died.
And this is August. The month that her husband asked me to plan her funeral, just six weeks after my second mastectomy. He said "What I need for this job is a good anal-retentive German!" That I am. It was hard for me, but it was the last gift I could give her.
And as I contemplate why she died in her mid 50s and I live at almost 82, do I feel guilty? Perhaps. But I neither caused her death nor prevented my own. I feel sadness for her and deep gratitude for myself. She would have loved her grandchildren as I love mine.
I'd like to share a journal entry from August 2, 1991:
She called me today to come say goodbye. Remembering how much my teddy year had comforted me the night after my second mastectomy a couple of weeks ago, I took Courageous Lion to her. She immediately drew him close.
I assured her that I supported her decision to refuse the intravenous feedings, even though we both knew what that meant. I could see she felt peaceful and that has continued to sustain me.
(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, (C) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)
More to come…