Survivor's Guilt

Bob Riter
Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes
Ultima Vez Modificado: 15 de julio del 2011

Share article


Bob and Queenie
Bob and Queenie

People going through cancer treatment at the same time often form their own peer group. They see each other in chemo, in radiation, and in various support groups. The fortunate ones do well, but they often feel guilty when others in their cohort succumb to the disease.

Survivor's guilt is a well-known phenomenon, but it's usually thought of in the context of war, disasters, and other catastrophic events. Why does one person live when others perish?

With cancer, it's a slower, more subtle process. There's a gradual realization that many of the people who once gathered together for a support group are no longer living.

Sometimes it's expected. Some cancers clearly have poorer prognoses than others. But sometimes it seems completely arbitrary, especially when a person's "cancer buddies" are those with the same cancer.

I'm not a fan of using military metaphors when writing about cancer, but it may be apt in relation to survivor's guilt. It's difficult to be a survivor if your buddies didn't make it. Survivors often feel more weariness than celebration.

I don't mean to suggest that survivor's guilt is ever-present in the minds of those of us with cancer. It's not. It just flits in and out of our consciousness, especially when another death occurs.

Sometimes it helps just to recognize this guilt and give it a name.

I've found that it's also beneficial to memorialize those who have died. They would be pleased that life continues. Memorials can take the form of donations, participating in cancer walks, volunteering, or simply planting flowers in their honor.

I've often written that cancer brings a profound sense of community. It's really the best thing that came out of my cancer. But by bringing connection, community also brings loss. It's inevitable and often painful.

But that sense of community is so good and so strong. Harold Kushner captured its essence when he wrote, "What cannot be achieved in one lifetime will happen when one lifetime is joined to another."


Bob is the Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appear regularly in the Ithaca Journal. He can be reached at bob@crcfl.net

Reprinted with Permission of the Ithaca Journal
Original publication date: March 12, 2011.



Blogs and Web Chats

OncoLink Blogs give our readers a chance to react to and comment on key cancer news topics and provides a forum for OncoLink Experts and readers to share opinions and learn from each other.




OncoLink OncoPilot

Frente a un nuevo diagnóstico de cáncer o de cambiar el curso de su tratamiento actual? Deje que nuestro personal de enfermería cáncer que ayudan a pasar!

Más información