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Survivor’s Guilt

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I had a dear friend that was also in the fight against his own cancer and we became cancer buddies. It was a comfort, even though we had totally different cancers and different treatment methods, we were journeying through the fight together. Although we both had caring loved ones and an expansive support system, having someone that can identify with the feelings associated with a cancer diagnosis and journey creates a bond.

He did not survive his cancer.

On the day of his funeral, I came home and put the suit that I had worn into the donation box. I decided that day that there was only one thing that I could control. I could not control the outcome of someone’s cancer, the severity of their cancer, the effects of treatment, treatment choices, or ultimately their fate. I felt that all I could control was what I did with my body. There were some good fruits from this, but mostly I saw destructive habits begin to twist and tighten around my life creating years long obsession with my weight and physical appearance. While attending a Project Pink'd event after my mastectomies, I remember looking at myself in the mirror and seeing the stark reality of my obsession. Inwardly as I became a slave to the scale, I felt guilty with every bite I took and every workout that I missed, while outwardly I became competitive and judgmental of others who could not control this aspect of their life.

Rather than grieving the loss of my cancer buddy and my own loss, I attempted to control these aspects of my life. I felt guilty for surviving my cancer, while my friend did not survive his. In retrospect, I did not realize how enslaved I had become.

Graciously, I have been slowly freed of this enslavement through a variety of life events, but mostly through the care and death of my husband. Through him, I learned that there is very little I can control, yet I can control my response to these difficult situations and live out a deep trust in God, who sees and understands what I cannot see and understand. Certainly, life has been difficult, but I know that I have a good Father who means no harm, but can help me to grow into the woman He has planned for me to be.

Though the temptation to take control into my own hands slips back in here and there, I now know that I do not have to surrender to it. More than anything, I have learned how to grieve life’s losses and disappointments and embrace seasons of grief rather than push past or stuff it. There is no guilt in surviving, that was not my journey. My path is thriving and celebrating life.

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