My Feeling of Survivor’s Guilt

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As a cancer survivor, I realize that life doesn’t always go the way we think it will, but it doesn’t erase the guilt.

Illustration of a woman with blonde hair wearing a gray t-shirt.

As a cancer survivor, I am acutely aware that all people should have lived longer than me. I was 59 when I was first diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and now I am 73.

My mother lived to the ripe old age of 93. One of the things I remember her saying was that the hardest part of getting old was watching your friends and family pass one by one. She did not want to be the last one standing in her generation, but she was. My mother was always stoic and never complained but I could see the pain in her eyes after my father’s sister died and knew she was thinking about all the people who were no longer there.

As a younger person, I was accustomed to older people dying after I lost four grandparents in six years, plus both of my parents. Of course, I was sad, but it didn’t hit me until I began to lose friends my age and younger. Two of my coworkers died of cancer, which affected me profoundly. One of them passed a few days after my diagnosis and I begged the rest of the office not to tell her and she never knew. Another friend who was the leader and spirit of our patient advisory council at the hospital lost a 15-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, leaving all of us devastated. A husband and wife who took care of my dog when I was on a cruise passed away from cancer two months apart. I just lost a friend to dementia. My oldest and best friend from church died of a brain aneurysm. These deaths are happening more frequently, which is to be expected, I guess.

I am not a crier, but I wish in some ways I was. Instead, when grief hits me a dull ache in the region of my heart never goes away. It dulls with time but refuses to leave when I think about them.

I have written other articles for CURE about the guilt I feel. Life just does not work out the way we expect. Our lives are not linear but go in circles, crisscrossing and crazy. I tell myself how precious life is and treasure each day. But I also feel a little part of my heart dying with each death. I truly hope I am not the last one standing, but no one can guarantee that. I know one thing. I am a better person for knowing every one of these people and carrying them with me in my heart. That to me is what life is all about.

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