Survivor guilt (or survivor’s guilt; also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. – via Wikipedia
We’ve all lost people in our lives, family members and friends who we’ve loved dearly. But when you’re a cancer survivor, the loss of a friend you’ve met from your cancer journey stirs up a different kind of grief. It’s called survivor’s guilt, and it often has a different meaning for everyone.
In the summer of 2014, when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I joined a Facebook support group because I didn’t know anyone who’d ever gone through this type of cancer. I felt the need to find women I could talk to and who were feeling or had felt similar fears and anxieties as I was. The women I met were remarkable and supportive and from that online community I gained a small, but very close group of girlfriends. Women I talked to online every day as I went through surgeries and treatments. Women I shared stories of my life with because our bond became so much more than our cancer.
Just over a year ago, one of my beautiful teal sisters passed away after battling a recurrence. She was an amazing friend who shined brighter than anyone I’d ever met. She lived a few hours away and I had been lucky enough to visit her twice. The first time was for a benefit to help raise money to help her as she underwent treatment. She surprised us all as it turned into a wedding and she stood before us and married the man of her dreams. The second visit was full of sadness as she’d been placed on hospice. It was a difficult visit, but to hug her and hold her hand one more time and share our loving friendship was touching. A few weeks later she passed with her husband by her side.
I think of my friend daily. Cancer brought us together, gave us a friendship that will forever be engraved in my soul. But cancer took her from me, took her from her family. It makes me sad and angry at the same time. As a survivor when you lose someone to cancer, so many questions run through your mind. Why was her cancer worse than mine? Why did cancer take her away? Why am I still here?
Survivor’s guilt makes you wonder what made your diagnosis and treatment different from that of someone whose cancer took them away. You feel guilty because you’re still here to love and be loved, and they have left this world, leaving their loved ones much too soon.
I’m reminded of my friend through old Facebook posts and text messages I refuse to delete. Though I only knew her for a little more than a year, she touched my life in so many beautiful ways. And when I feel that guilt rising up, she somehow brings me strength and lends me some of her shine. She is one of the reasons I became an advocate. The world should not have lost Melissa’s shine because of cancer. I’m lucky to have known her, lucky to feel her love inside me to help me push forward and tell other women about cervical cancer prevention.