Is Survivor’s Guilt Really a Thing?

Turns out, it is. Survivor’s guilt is really a thing.

When I was first diagnosed, my aversion to reading anything regarding ovarian cancer was out of self-preservation. I couldn’t yoke myself to anyone else’s story in the irrational belief that their fate would be my fate.  It was like hanging with the wrong crowd and their offensive behavior would become mine.

As a year went by, and then two, my hair grew back and I passed my every-6-month CA125 blood tests and CAT scans, I continued to shirk anything and everything connected to ovarian cancer. The only exception was the yearly Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer 5k in Fairmount Park because there is always a group of survivors in a joyful celebratory mood. Before the walk/run, we each step up to the microphone, give our name and how many months or years you are a survivor. Knowing the statistics, I was encouraged by the few that made it past 5 years. With every name and number called out, a shout of enthusiasm and applause follows from the crowd and you feel like you won the victory lap.

At year three, I began traveling and speaking for Stonecroft Ministries, happy to share my story of hope with other women. Everywhere I went I encountered stories of loss, and some were heart-wrenching to hear. Many times I would speak to a woman who lost her daughter, sister or mother to ovarian cancer, and I would leave, driving miles on the road to my next destination, lost in my thoughts, tears and wonder of still being here. Why? Lord, why am I still here??

Of course, I have no answer.

My daughter-in-law lost her sister to melanoma at age 40. I knew Jessica well and had great affection for her, but I just couldn’t bring myself to visit the hospital in her last days. How could I stand in her room, next to her mother and sister in perfect health while she had days left to live? I couldn’t. She had so much life left to live, with two young daughters to raise. Why? Lord, why am I still here??

Of course, I have no answer.

I hear stories of and make donations to families who lose children unexpectedly to blood cancers and brain cancers. Just this year, my daughter lost a friend to brain tumors, leaving behind a bereft husband and 4 young boys. And my heart breaks. Why, Lord? Why am I still here??

Of course, I have no answer.

For the last year I have been wanting to start this blog to reach and help more women (and men), but something within me holds me back, a resistance to writing I can feel but not name. I’m at the beach alone, riding my bike and mentally sorting through possible reasons when a thought crosses my mind. I’m not worthy of being healed. The thought circles through again, and this time lands, and the tears begin. I pedal faster, cry harder, faster, harder. Thankfully it’s dusk and the kids are at the boardwalk, and I am alone. I pedal home and find my phone with the need to call a friend and talk this through. How do I deal with this THING so it doesn’t hold me back? How do I write a blog about my health and healing when others have suffered devastating loss? Why, Lord? Why am I still here?? I am not worthy of this great gift you have given me!

As it turns out,

I was kind of given an answer, but it might not be the answer you are looking for. I am worthy of His love, I am worthy of His sacrifice. True, both, because He died for me, and if I’m not worthy, His sacrifice means nothing. And I am worthy of being healed. But I am no more worthy of being healed than Jessica was, or my daughter’s friend, or someone’s child. The thing is, we don’t get to decide, God does. God alone decrees the outcome, and because I love Him and trust Him, that has to be good enough for me.

And one of the things my friend pointed out to me is that when you have the courage to believe (because sometimes it takes courage), and when you “name your stuff”, you give courage to other people to “name their stuff.” Words give courage to others to face down their struggles. Because we all have them, every single one of us.

So… maybe my words will give you courage to face down your struggles.

Survivor’s guilt? Yeah, I guess I will always grieve when I hear a sad story. But guilt indicates I did something wrong… and how can God’s will ever be wrong? I give thanks for my health every single day, and have for the last 8 1/2 years,but this is the beginning of a new thing in me.

And hopefully, the shedding of any survivors guilt you may have been lugging around. It’s extra, unnecessary baggage. Leave it behind.

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