Survivor’s Guilt

Headshot Photo of Ovarian Cancer Survivor Debbie 1

In 2013, after less than a year of marriage, Debbie was diagnosed with Stage 1C ovarian cancer. Both Debbie and her husband, Monty, struggled, but found their way through the support of the ovarian cancer community. That encouraged them to become advocates themselves. They’ve dedicated their lives to raising awareness for their Teal Women and Men.

Survivor’s Guilt is a tough topic.

It’s hard for me to describe and explain as not all survivors experience this. For me, this started as an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach as I started meeting other survivors who were diagnosed at Stage 3 or 4 and those who were in recurrence.

Being diagnosed at Stage 1, I felt blessed. Not having a lot of problems and seeming to breeze through treatment, I felt even more blessed. I never had a chance in the beginning to ask those questions of “Why me?” I would get messages or emails from friends and family asking for prayers for others who seemed much worse off than me. I mean, the worst I was experiencing was bone pain, neuropathy, dizziness, and some sleepless nights, right?

Well…about 9 months after I was diagnosed, I started to get involved in our local Ovarian Cancer Alliance and joined a couple of online ovarian cancer support groups. I met so many wonderful women, many who were diagnosed with late stage, and many who were in their 2nd or even 3rd recurrence. I also met others who were Stage 1 and those who were long-term survivors.

I tried to give advice and encouragement when I could. But sometimes I still couldn’t shake that feeling.

Then, 15 months after I had been diagnosed, I attended my first National Ovarian Cancer Conference. There I met so many strong women, made so many fast friends—women who I am still friends with 3 years later!

It was after all this I found a name for that feeling that would knot up my stomach and make me sad for days—Survivor’s Guilt. I found out that many of my other Stage 1 friends feel the same way. This feeling gets the strongest when Teal Sisters pass away, especially having to say good-bye, having to look their loved ones in the eye—all while knowing I have the same disease and yet I’m still here.

So, how do I combat this guilt? It’s easy for those who don’t have it to say, “Get over it” or “Don’t feel guilty.” I can’t fault them for it, but I can’t let others tell me how to feel!

Instead, I’d like to share with you some things I have found that help me when the “why me’s?” hit:

  1. Wear Teal—For me, this has become my POWER color. It connects me to those fighting the disease and reminds me I’m a warrior. It can be as simple as wearing a teal ribbon.
  2. Spread Awareness—Post a fact about or the symptoms of ovarian cancer on your social media. This is a quick, simple way to get a small awareness piece out at any time of the year. Encourage friends and followers to share your post. You can spread awareness offline, too. Carry symptom cards with you. Start conversations everywhere you go. Hand out the symptom cards to women (and men) and leave them in public places.
  3. Tell Your Story—Talk about your experience with ovarian cancer with anyone who will listen.
  4. Get Involved—Join your local ovarian cancer organization. Go to events, volunteer, and get involved educating future medical professionals through different programs.
  5. Take A Break—Give yourself a break from social media and all things cancer. Go back to a loved hobby, read a book for fun, watch a funny movie or show, and/or have a date with your significant other or a friend!

The guilt may not go away fully, but I’ve found that these tips help push it to the background for a while. Finding and connecting with other warriors who are experiencing the same issue, and leaning on them when I feel that guilt, helps too.

These are the friends, your Teal Sisters, who know exactly what you’re going through.