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There is No End to the Guilt

by Jennifer AnandSurvivor, Hodgkin’s LymphomaMay 30, 2023View more posts from Jennifer Anand

There is No End to the Guilt

The guilt eats away at you. I’m coming up on 10 years post-transplant. I ask less now, “Why am I alive?” but feel more the guilt of my life. The guilt of having a job and friendships and being able to live even a somewhat normal life. The weight of the guilt is crushing. 

I was at the Thanksgiving service where J shared the excitement that the cancer was in remission. She and her husband both kindly patted my shoulder on their way to speak at the front. But what was I to say? Congratulations? My heart was filled with the weight of remembering my relapse and hoping their happiness was not short-lived. And yet it was. Just one week later the cancer had returned, and she passed away at the end of 2022. Her youngest child hasn’t graduated high school yet and is the same age I was when I was diagnosed. It seems so wrong that I’m alive, and yet she won’t be able to attend her daughters’ weddings or son’s high school graduation. 

I had a really hard day on my cancerversary, and I called a close friend. He asked if I had called S. No, I hadn’t. How do you call someone whose mother died of cancer last year, and tell her that you are struggling with the fact that you are alive? 

I took my “good job not dying” cake into the office, and proudly showed and shared it with my coworkers. And N immediately came over and gave me a huge hug. And my guilt reared up, as I wondered if she was thinking of how her dad would never celebrate a cancerversary. 

I met Steve G. for lunch that weekend, and it honestly saved me. There is a different sort of community when you talk to another cancer person. We commiserated on health issues, remembered friends lost, and talked about the community we now have. 

There is no end to the guilt. I’m still alive, and the weight of that can be crushing. 

Why? Why am I here? Why did I struggle through college and work and friendships and insurance and all these adult things when some don’t even finish their teenage years? I recently shared the story of Azul with a friend. She was a six-year-old Hispanic girl in the hospital at the same time as me. We would walk our IV poles together and hang out. My sister did our nails regularly, and we were best buds. She interpreted for her parents who didn’t speak English and who worked insane hours. A six year old thrust into a situation that a 17 year old with an ever-present family and great English skills couldn’t handle. I feel guilty thinking of beautiful cheerful Azul. I had major pity parties for myself but I didn’t have it nearly as bad as she did. Why does this happen? I don’t know. Life’s not fair, and it can suck. 

Why did Rebecca die? Why did Larry die? Why did Sean just get diagnosed with cancer with two small children? 

I wish I had answers, but I don’t. And I don’t think I ever will. I just have to remember that I am alive. And most days I am grateful for that.

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