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I am a survivor of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. It’s a very rare Leukemia, and one of the few considered “curable”. It’s been 5 years since I achieved remission. I really struggle with survivors guilt. Is this common? What can I do to cope better?
Hello @apl2014 and welcome to Mayo Clinic Connect!
First, I'd like to congratulate you on your successful treatment for Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. You must be thrilled to be a survivor of this disorder.
I can understand that you are also feeling some "survivor's guilt." Many of us who have found ourselves in remission from cancer feel similar to you. The questions: Why me? Why did I survive and not others? Does this describe your thoughts as well?
I recently found an article in Psychology Today that speaks of survivor's guilt as being part of PTSD. As I think about it, this makes sense to me. You have undoubtedly gone through some tumultuous times with treatments and meds that have probably left you a changed person. You certainly aren't the same person you were prior to your diagnosis. There were a couple of paragraphs from this article (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-be-yourself/201711/six-tips-handling-survivor-guilt) that I would like to quote here in hopes that it will help you:
"Even if you suspect, somehow, you shouldn’t still be here, remind yourself of who would be devastated if you were not. Think of all the people who care deeply about you and who are overjoyed and relieved that you’re okay. You’ve been given the gift of survival, so rather than rejecting that gift because you somehow feel undeserving, share it with those who love you. At the very least, they deserve it.
Hidden beneath survivor guilt is the idea that there’s only so much luck to go around and that benefiting from good fortune means that someone else is being deprived of it. But luck is random. The lottery is a perfect example of how arbitrary luck is: sometimes no one has the winning lottery number; sometimes multiple people share the prize. The chances of you specifically hitting it big aren’t increased or decreased by anyone else’s picks. It’s hard to accept that there’s not greater order to things, but once we do, we feel vindicated."
The last paragraph (not quoted here) speaks of taking those feelings and seeking to help others. I suppose that is one reason why I participate in Mayo Clinic Connect. Have you thought of how you might help others as a survivor?
If you are comfortable doing so, would you like to share some of the treatments you received that led to your remission?
Can you express what you feel guilty about? How does it affect your living? What's your perspective?
At this time, I am a 6 year survivor of pancreatic cancer. Several people I know died of pancreatic cancer – my cousin, my brother-in-law, my pastor's wife. I wonder why they died and I didn't. It is especially hard when I meet family members who have lost love ones to this disease. I wonder how they feel that I am still alive when their loved one isn't. I really feel it bothers me more than it bothers them. I think it gives me a greater compassion for those suffering with any type of cancer and those who have family members dealing with cancer.
Marvin: Thoughts like this wear you down! I am lucky I don’t have COVID 19! How life and luck play out in the human community is, I believe arbitrary. You can help others but you can’t take their place. Glad you shared,though. A lot of people are feeling guilt about being well when others aren’t well.Do what you can,where you can, with whatever resources you have. Be glad you can. You have given me energy for this day.
I am glad to see this issue being discussed. I was unable to be joyous when I was told I would probably live a long life as I am in remission, because I had recently lost a brother to cancer. He suffered terribly when I had surgery which “got it all” and my rare Carcinoid Cancer was not one that would respond to chemo or radiation whereas those treatments ravaged his body and soul. But I now have another brother who has survived cancer and together we thank God for our blessings and are witness to the proof that cancer patients can survive Stage III and Stage IV rare cancers and outlive the “five-year” or other typically projected life spans, and thrive with full and productive lives. Though we both live with certain side effects and as we are both retired and don’t have to show up at a job every day, we know there are others who have to struggle with far more quality of life issues. We both share our stories to encourage others. We both continue to be monitored and know that each day needs to be lived well and that our tomorrow’s are not guaranteed to be cancer free. But, we know that if caught early there is a much greater possibility to beat any metastasis. And we both have had great surgeons and have great oncologists. We are also blessed to live in a time when research and new treatments are proving successful. Although we both miss our brother who passed, we know he would want us to make the most of our remissions.
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@marvinjsturing Thanks for liking my post. Bravo for being a cancer survivor and maybe one can think of your gift is compassion for others with this illness for that's your journey. I appreciate your honesty.
The reason I ask your perspective: If you believe in creationism and chance evolution, there would be no reason to fret over others that are naturally weeded out. That's just evolution – cold science.
But if you believe we are more than just cells and chemical reactions, that someone is watching over us, then each of us has a mission, goal and a final destination. That mission may be short or long, but it's still a personal quest and journey. We meet and assist others on their journey, as they do for us.
If you view your survival as a gift, each day is another precious gift you can share with others to help them see that WE only have so many days on this planet. We are mortal — each one of us.
But you may have an even greater mission: to help those who believe they are immortal, invincible, or oblivious to death. You may be called to teach and pass on the tremendous gift that life is. Give that gratitude to those who are without it. LIFE is special. You are proof of it.
You've been through the fire — you have great compassion for those who have been with you. Their lives have impacted you. You have learned that people are more important than things. You have developed a friendship with and for those who have gone through the battle with you.
There are others that still need to learn that life is valuable, regardless of the length of days or hours. You can teach them. Share the gift that you are. Teach them that all life is worth living to the best that we are able. Teach, especially those who believe they have a long future ahead of them, to value each new day. It too is a gift.
What a blessing to have survived this particular cancer. Currently I am in a not too common remission for Myeloma. I consider myself so fortunate that I don’t gravitate towards the why me thinking. Instead I focus on considering how much hope I can offer others fighting this battle. If you need an answer to, “Why me?” then perhaps you have gifts of communication, or evangelism, or personal qualities that open up others to the possibility of success in their fight. You may not easily change direction of thought, but when we focus on others it is impossible for our brain to focus on ourselves at the same time. I hope you can get to a place where you can enjoy the new life you have no matter HOW it happened. The why may not even exist. Will you please check back in down the road when you have had time to readjust your thinking on this? Peace, Nancy
@1nan Thanks for your post. I should have made a more complete response. This is a discussion about feeling guilty about surviving cancer. My response was written to indicate that those feelings are real. I have had such feelings. I fully understand how others can have those feelings. What I didn't say is that I don't dwell on those feelings. I am a 6 year survivor of pancreatic cancer. Last December I was told that my cancer has come back. I am expecting some very trying times in the coming months. But I view every day of life as a gift from God. I do have physical limitations due to my various medical conditions (cancer, diabetes and kidney failure). But I do everything in my power to enjoy spending time with my family and friends and enjoying the beauty of God's creation that surrounds me. God has given me his peace and he will give me the strength I need to face an uncertain future. I will continue to celebrate every day of life that I am given
That peace is something that we couldn’t make happen on our own. You are blessed with strength and ability to appreciate the gifts that you receive along the way. Best wishes in the days and weeks ahead as you again pick up what you need to go forward. Many here on Connect understand and will respond if you ask. Is there anything in particular this venue can do for you?
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