By Bruce Stambaugh
I wasn’t surprised when I got the word. Three years after my successful prostate cancer surgery, I remained cancer free.
Of course, I was glad, ecstatic really. But after getting the all clear from my doctor, I never celebrate, and I don’t gloat. I know I am one of the fortunate ones. Far too many people diagnosed with cancer never hear those blessed words, “cancer free.”
I had excellent doctors who expertly monitored and guided me through my journey. When it was decided to do the robotic surgery, I hoped and prayed for the best results.
Fortunately, my prayers were answered. Those of too many others with cancer have not been, will not be. At times, I feel bad about that, guilty even, sometimes to the point of depression.
I never know when those feelings will arise. I’m not even sure what triggers them. I just know at times I feel really sad for others, and guilty because I made it while others did not.
I recognized that an important first step in fighting this negativity was to personally acknowledge my situation, and seek the appropriate medical and therapeutic help. It’s good to be honest, especially with yourself.
It was also reassuring to learn that my anxiety propensity is fed by a genetic disorder only recently diagnosed. Medicine and diet help balance my emotions. That doesn’t eliminate my remorse, however.
Whenever I share these survivor guilt feelings with others, reactions vary from understanding to bewilderment. Some question the idea entirely, and wonder how in the world I could feel the way I do.
There is no easy answer, just like there is no good cancer. Cancer is cancer. Guilt is guilt, whether it is justified or not. Like so many other survivors, I ask the obvious questions. Why was I saved? Why were others not?
I am not sharing for sympathy. I do so for understanding, not for me so much as for all the others who suffer similarly.
I am not alone in dealing with this survivor’s guilt syndrome. The condition ranges far beyond the circles of cancer victims. Firefighters, military personnel, first responders, victims of violence all hurt likewise.
The good news for me, besides being cancer free, is that I try not to let my sporadic despair overwhelm me to the point of hopelessness. I always have hope, and always hope the best for others.
I tell my own story when asked. But I found a pair of other actions far more helpful. Simply being there, and listening to others are both critical to cancer victims, their families and friends, and to survivors, too.
I have found a sincere presence, and kind, active listening beneficial healing approaches to all touched by this horrible disease. Such support encouraged me during my ordeal, and I try to do the same for others in need when and where I can. There seem to be too many opportunities lately.
I greatly appreciated the encouragement given by my loving wife and family. I also belong to a very supportive small group with other cancer survivors and victims. We share openly and honestly with one another, without judgment or shame. We meet regularly to stay in touch with how each of us is doing on our cancer journey.
Still, when that dreaded guilt shows its ugly face, I know what to do. I visit and I listen. Purposeful focusing on the needs of others helps me heal, too.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2014
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