survivor guilt in cancer

I have been reading a blog here (which blog unfortunately I cannot remember now) where the blogger was feeling a “survivor guilt” because s/he had early stage cancer, was now doing well, but was nevertheless feeling guilty of surviving while many others did not.

I have been hearing survivor guilt in cancer patients for some time. I wonder whether it is used to cover overlapping but distinct concepts?

The wikipedia entry for survivor guilt, although not specific for cancer, explains it; notice how different it is; i.e. those feeling survivor guilts blaming themselves for the death of others.

In cancer, I do not think any of the cancer survivors blame themselves for the death of others. But I know from many survivors that they will not feel good about their own survival (at least time to time) when they see others who are lost to this disease. It may be one of the reasons driving the patient advocacy, fundraising events, and support groups with which cancer patients and others affected by this disease relentlessly work to control and to reduce the burden of cancer (thank you all).

To me, this is different than the survivor guilt expressed by some cancer patients diagnosed with early-stage cancers or good/easy cancers (I do not appreciate this classification by the way), such as thyroid cancer, which generally have relatively good survival rates. I sense that this guilt is different. I kind of feel like some patients may blame themselves for not going through the same serious ordeal as other patients, such as advanced cancer patients do (multiple surgeries, chemo, and radiotherapy, recurrences, unavailability of effective treatment options etc..).

Do the doctors, media, and others who categorize these cancers/patients as easy to treat/cure have a role in this survivor guilt and somehow lead some patients to be apologetic about their own survival? Is this comparison among different cancers even useful or healthy?

I care about all affected by cancer regardless of their prognosis and I said it many times, only because it is true that, cancer affects all of us. In so many different levels. I just wished noone was apologetic about surviving cancer. Let’s continue to direct our collective efforts to help effective control and treatment of this disease in every cancer patient.

We cannot be not knowledgeable about cancer and its impact

A few of my posts are about cancer (e.g. here and here).

I had mentioned earlier that personally and professionally cancer has been a part of my life.

I read about cancer a lot; I learnt most about it by reading the posts by cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, or advocates. I learn how it may feel to be diagnosed by this disease, how the patient or the people around them feel, think, wish, and do. Or cannot do. How they are treated. How they wish to be treated. What treatment options do they have? How do they go through this individual journey? What works? What absolutely do not work? What is palliative care? How is it different than hospice care?

In Canada, according to Canadian Cancer Statistics 45% of the population will be diagnosed by cancer and 25% will die because of it.

These numbers are huge.

It can hit you.

It can hit me.

It can hit someone next door.

We know that there are some factors associated with it; for example genetics in some cases (such as BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations), or environmental factors, such as smoking or viruses. Science serves its purpose here.

What we do not know is how it affects persons and how we can understand and support those individuals or ourselves as individuals, society, or government and non-profit organizations. How would you support yourself or others if you did not know the needs and experiences of the patients, their caregivers, and others?

As a matter of fact, why do we not know about these? Seriously. For such a common disease, why is this lack of awarenesses? Is it because we prefer to filter this information out (it is scary I know and we may not want to think about it), is it because it is not even out there?

So far, I have seen only one channel of information valuable and constantly growing; the voices of cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and others affected by cancer. That is why the blogs, posts, tweets by these individuals are so important. They are doing this huge work to get the words out. Listen, understand, and support if you wish.

Cheers.

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