Cancer Privilege Guilt


Cancer isn't easy for anyone, but sometimes I feel guilty that my daughter had some supports that others do not.

Although a small one, I have developed a social media presence regarding my daughter’s cancer experience and as such, I have connected with many young women, a few young men, and some of their mothers about what it’s like to try to manage the flood of emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis when your adult life is just beginning.

I regularly comment on other people’s posts and put my own thoughts out there several times a week. But I’ve been very hesitant about participating recently, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

At first, I thought I was classic survivor’s guilt, but I’ve felt that before, and this time it feels different. Then I thought it was just the busy that comes with the holidays, but I’ve been busy before and it hasn’t stopped me from scrolling through at all hours of the day and night to see if there’s a placewhere I thought I could help.

And then yesterday I was able to put a name to what I’ve been experiencing.

Cancer privilege guilt.

READ MORE: Celebrity Cancer Stories Highlight an Unlevel Playing Field

Allow me to explain.

I have had a mother who has followed my writing reach out to me looking for support. She would love to be able to pack up her life and move across the country to support her child through treatment the way I did, but she has too many responsibilities in her life to allow that to happen.

I have read a story about how a young single mother dealing with cancer is facing eviction for the third time, because treatment has left her unable to work and the income that she is receiving from benefits programs does not allow her to meet her basic obligations.

I am in communication with a mother whose daughter’s concern about the lump were ignored by the medical professionals, and as a result, the diagnosis came much later. They will never know if it was localized and could have been removed or if it had already metastasized, which was her initial diagnosis.

I hear of far too many young and old people who have to fight tooth and nail to receive the recommended treatment because someone in an office is tasked with deciding whether or not the cost/benefit analysis aligns with the company’s bottom line.

I read stories about friends and loved ones, who were hoped for supporters, abandoning the person who has cancer in their actual time of need, or if they offer to assist when it comes down to it they either can’t or won’t step in.

When it came to Adrienne’s cancer diagnosis at the age of 27, I only had the mental capacity to put plan A into place and, somehow, every piece of that particular puzzle fell into place exactly as I needed it to for me to be who, and where, I needed to be. I had the privilege of a partner and other family members absorbing my usual responsibilities so I could walk away from my life to be with my girl.

Adrienne was privileged to be working from home.On her better days, she could still do some of her tasks, so her company continued to pay her full salary for the majority of time she was in treatment, so living expenses were never a concern.

Her doctor took the lump seriously the first time she brought it to her attention, and while it went from stage 1 to stage 2b in the wait time after the biopsy confirmed it was cancer and treatment started, that privilege meant it was still local enough to give her a shot at NED. Because of where my daughter lives, she was privileged to have access to medications she couldn’t afford because they were covered compassionately by a program that provides support to people without insurance. And our family and friends stepped up, both practically and emotionally, holding space for both of us as we struggled down the challenging path of what life became once Adrienne entered treatment.

I will never know if the complete bubble of support that surrounded us made a difference in the end result, but understanding the impact of stress on the body’s ability to fight off invaders I can’t help but believe it did. There are lots of discussions out there today about the invisible backpacks of privilege that people carry, and over the last little while I have been unpacking mine and looking at the contents with contemplative eye.

For those of you out there who carry a heavier burden, I see you. I can never understand, but I see you. And if it were in my power, I would make sure you all had the cancer privilege we did.

I really would.

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