Sunday, October 28, 2012

Survivor Guilt...It's A Real Thing

Before I write about anything else, let me first say thank you to every single one of you who prayed for me and my family during my thyroid surgery. We received the news a few days ago that the mass was BENIGN!!! Now we move forward, wait for healing to complete and get the thyroid medication, Synthroid at the correct dose. This is done through lab draws and watching for symptoms of hypo/hyperthyroidism.
I will continue to update on these things but for today, I have a heaviness on my heart that I can't shake.  It happens every year like clock October and again in March. It has a name and I thought for sure that it wouldn't happen this year. But alas, it has struck again...or maybe it was never gone to begin with but suppressed instead. SURVIVOR GUILT.
I suffer from this especially in October which has been deemed Breast Cancer Awareness month and in March because it is the month that my chemo buddy Kate passed away. This past weekend, my family went to Nashville for the Susan G Komen Race for The Cure as we have every year since diagnosis. The first year was fun and exciting because I had just finished up chemo and radiation and was celebrating the news that Kate was also "cancer free." She had chemo first and then her surgery so her results had just come back and she was recovering from surgery and couldn't make the walk. We promised we would do it together the next year...but it never happened. She died 5 months later. She literally was only "cancer free" for 3 months.
So the second year at the race, I was determined to do it for Kate. I prayed and asked God to give me a visible sign of Kate being there with me and He a huge way. At the 1 mile marker, a bird flew literally right in front of a foot in front of my face at eye level. Kate LOVED birds! This was such a blessing to me. By the end of the race though, I was in a funk and just not feeling much like celebrating. I felt guilty. Guilty for living. Guilty that Kate died and I was here, healthy, and able to walk in a 5K. And each year since that the guilt and depression has heightened to a point of high anxiety as soon as we enter the Race Village and it doesn't fade for a few days.
Many people don't understand this and have said things like:
"Kate wouldn't want you to feel guilty."
"Celebrate you."
"Don't feel just wasn't your time to go."
And many many other things that I know are super well intentioned and meant to be encouraging, but what I want to scream (and I do on the inside) is "HOW CAN I CELEBRATE MY LIFE WHEN MY BEST FRIEND AND CHEMO PARTNER DIED?" It just doesn't seem right nor fair. I know this is my problem and maybe most people can celebrate and move on easily, but I would venture to guess that there are just as many who are having a hard time like I am. The "medical" term for this is Survivor Guilt Syndrome and is suffered just as deeply by our military men and women when they lose a friend in war and they wonder why it was the friend and not them. It's a real problem that I wish there was a great solution to.
I have started reading articles on this topic and have considered going back to counseling to just have someone to talk to because I feel like no one else really understands. I don't know anyone else who has lost a close friend to the very same disease so close to after you have both been deemed cancer free. I just feel alone at times and not a week goes by when I don't think of Kate, her husband Tim, and something that we used to do together. I have managed to avoid the restaurant PF Changs for 3 years with the exception of going once with my family in Seattle. You see, PF Changs was the last dinner that Kate and I shared together and the waiter gave us free dessert to contribute to our cancer free states. I can hardly think about it without getting teary eyed right now. I need to deal with this, I know. But I don't know how. I'm stuck. Part of me wants to get over it and move on and the other part of me says to take this time and grieve because it's a part of healing, but is it really? This many years later (almost 3)? I'm not grieving daily...just mostly in March and October like I said earlier, but is that even okay?

Thankfully today our pastor and great friend, Michael Bayne, spoke about loneliness and it went straight to my heart. I'm going back to listen to the podcast and really take it in again because I NEED this. I'm lonely. I'm all alone in this...or at least I feel that way. I know lots of people who are breast cancer survivors, but the bond just isn't the same as mine and Kate's since we did EVERY SINGLE treatment together, were the same age, and at the same stage in life. And honestly I have only befriended one other lady with breast cancer in my city and I find myself sometimes praying to the point of tears for her miracle healing. She is so incredibly special to me, I know that God ordained my friendship with her, and I am terrified of losing her at times.

So wrapping this up, let me share some advice: Please don't look at people like they are crazy when they say they feel bad for not being the one who died. Chances are, they just wonder why they were spared and not their friend. Don't judge those who hate every product that turns pink in October because they could just be sad that breast cancer has been wrapped up in a pretty little pink ribbon while the real issue of a cure and prevention has been pushed aside. The statistics lie. 98% of women do NOT survive breast cancer. As a matter of fact, for my stage my survival rate at 5 years is only 67% and at 10 years only 47%.


  1. Kelly, I appreciate your honesty and think you're right on with the grieving. Our womens group counselor once said their are 2 types of grievers. The first type....their whole world stops. They go into their beds or homes, leaving the rest of the world outside to move on. They wallow in their sorrows for however long it takes...weeks, months, or years, until it is out of their system. The 2nd type of griever (most fit this mold), moves along with their life as best they can until something triggers their emotion. They have a time of emotional vomit, for lack of better wording, periodically, and then they move on until the next trigger. The grieving takes longer (length of time wise), but they can still go about their daily life. You are perfectly normal. :) You are amazing and beautiful! Keep hanging in there and don't be ashamed to talk to your counselor again, that moves you along the greiving process quicker and is very healthy for you. Love ya!!

  2. I understand you and definitely don't think you're crazy. Mine is a very mild form of it, seeing as I haven't stared death in the face and is also mild because it's a different situation-having shared the trials of infertility..then suddenly I'm fertile but my friends are still in that valley.I sometimes don't even want to post about my family on Fb for fear of making an infertile person sad! I remember the emotions too well and yet it's been 7 years...Anyway, totally off-topic, but it's because of this that I can understand why you have negative feelings about your 'making it.'-in a SMALL way!