Surviving Guilt


One year ago today, after seven long weeks, I completed my radiation treatment. The twenty-something, male radiology tech I had daily bared my breasts and unshaven armpits to presented me with a certificate to honor my “courage and perseverance.” He hugged me goodbye while his smile sweetly said, “Don’t come back again.”

So now, twelve months later, I carry this sense of guilt that I can’t seem to shake. It haunts me in the wee hours of the night and chastens me at random moments throughout the day.

It feels like my dirty, little secret.

I have a compulsion to analyze everything; to know all the “whats” and “whys.” Consequently, I obsess over this dilemma. I’ve told no one, for who would understand my predicament? Worse yet, someone might respond, “Why yes, you should be guilt-ridden. You should be remorseful, embarrassed, and mortified you ungrateful b*+%#!”

In reality, I feel my diagnosis wasn’t devastating enough. I had an easy cancer, as cancers go. Caught very early, no mastectomy or chemo was needed. I don’t feel worthy to be a member of the pink ribbon club after witnessing the cataclysmic effects of a real, true cancer. My husband fought through leukemia and the impact of its treatment for almost seven years. He combatted this fierce challenger for control each and every one of those 2,539 days. I was the anguished observer and cheerleader, but I couldn’t stop the war. Finally, his body put up the white flag and he was gone. My four-month battle with the disease is insignificant in comparison.

I will at no time, ever, on any occasion, be able to repay all those who offered support through every test, appointment, surgery and treatment. I was cherished. Who was I to deserve this outpouring? I’m ashamed to admit that this self-debasement immobilizes me. Insecurities halt my desire to pay it forward — I would like to bring over a home-cooked meal (My cooking skills now suck.) Maybe dropped by unannounced, flowers in hand. (I’d be intruding.) — I guess some teenage angst stays with you forever.

Bouts of callousness and impatience engulf me. Trite memes bombard my Facebook page — Hit “like” if you want to cure cancer. Ignore, if you don’t — and make me want to scream. The constant pleas to “share” this pic or be faced with possible misfortunes are the new chain letter. These manipulations will do none of the things they promise or threaten, yet why do I judge? Why do they bother me so?

In the past, I volunteered as much as I could. I poured myself into these endeavors for they gave me a sense of purpose, a distraction from personal reflection. Now that time has ended and I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. Flat on my ass, I’m at a loss as to what to do next.

Some might say I am spent; I’ve given enough and I need some “me” time. Possibly, but I am uncomfortable with that assessment. It seems selfish. I am unsure why I am writing this and doubt I will hit the ominous “Publish” button taunting me. How can I admit publicly that I feel stagnant and full of excuses? To do so would reveal the scarlet letter that I have kept hidden, yet shamefully nurtured. The thought of it constricts my chest like a vice and I can barely breathe.

I take slow, deliberate breaths and wonder if declaration is the answer. Do I need to bare my soul, as I did my breasts, for treatment to begin? Does the secret need to be exposed in order to be eradicated? Will this confession radiate to my core and dissect the guilt that has invaded?

Perhaps that’s my real, true, war for survival.

Originally published in @HumanParts

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