Survivor Guilt

A young woman died yesterday of metastatic lung cancer; I am still here. Why? I don’t know why. I read almost daily of someone in our lung cancer community who has died. And for every one, I shed a few tears. But there are those who are still fighting, and I count myself among that number. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in October, and after 4 treatments with chemo, I am on maintenance therapy. I don’t know how long the drugs will work, and I don’t know what comes next. I only know that lung cancer kills more people than all other cancers combined, and that the funding for lung cancer research is woefully inadequate.

Why do some people survive and others not? I don’t know what the variable is. But sometimes I feel guilty for being on maintenance therapy and doing well when there are others who have reached the end of their options. And there are those for whom nothing works at all. I don’t know what makes the difference; I wish I did, and I wish I could give it to all of those on this journey. It isn’t fair that young women are dying of this disease; they have their whole lives ahead of them.

I know it isn’t up to me to decide who lives and who dies. And I’m glad for that. I spent many years as a nurse and saw what those decisions did to those who had to make them. I remember patients as young as 16 dying of cancer. But that was so long ago. Lung cancer treatment has advanced, but the survival rates are still abysmal. Is it because of the perception that only smokers get lung cancer? If so, we need to change that. More and more never-smokers are being diagnosed with lung cancer, and the diagnosis almost always comes when the disease has already advanced to the metastatic stage.

So one more death to make me sad and mad. And why am I still alive and she isn’t?

10 thoughts on “Survivor Guilt

  1. costellocnm says:

    Sending you a big hug. I know what you are feeling. I,too, am so upset about Jessica’s passing. It isn’t fair ! Cancer sucks. Yes, lung cancer needs more research funding & hopefully things are starting to change. I hope they find more treatment options soon…for all of our sakes. In the meantime, I try and enjoy each day…One day at a time ~
    May Jessica rest in Peace.

  2. I’m sorry for your loss. Your use of the phrase “survivor guilt” threw me back into the days after Hurricane Ike. I came out essentially unscathed, while so many of my friends lost everything, or nearly so. It’s hard to deal with, but deal we must.

    Events like Jessica’s death remind us that we aren’t God, and those decisions aren’t up to us. All we can do is support, and grieve, and heal. Well, and celebrate — both lives lived and lives lost.

  3. Ruth, bless you. The pain you feel is vivid. In 1972, when I had returned to nursing school, I was in my rotation at M.D. Anderson. I saw plenty of cancer – all types. It was about then that my father was dx with lung cancer. I had the grimmest response – BUT – at the time, radiation and surgery was the order for him. He survived. He was an “ex” smoker of some 40 years but worked at a chemical refinery. He passed in 1996. Subsequent to the lung cancer, he beat four other types of cancer. I think all of his were due to exposure to chemicals at the refinery. In those days, there was no OSHA protection to speak of. Ironically, he did not die of cancer – he had other overwhelming health issues. I also have learned a great deal about lung cancer as the overlooked number one killer -the research is so underfunded, not popular, seemingly in the public eye always associated unjustly with smoking. I think, though, that there is a push for folks, especially with efforts from individuals like you, to bring more attention to the issue as it really exists. There was a piece on Nightly News with Diane Sawyer a few weeks ago. It was exactly about this issue with a very clear chart depicting the types of cancer, portraying lung cancer as #1 killer of women – I was thinking, “Yes – I hope Ruth is watching and seeing someone getting the word out as she is so making such a valiant effort to educate us on FB!”
    Survivor guilt? Yes, I can only imagine. I know it is different, but my husband talks about it from VN – he has PTSD as a component.

  4. I generally do okay taking one day at a time, but Jessica’s death really hit me hard. It’s like the time my friend died from metastatic breast cancer shortly after I was diagnosed. Some deaths hit me harder than others.

  5. I’m glad to hear it was on national news; I hardly ever watch the news. There are several organizations working to secure more funding for lung cancer screening and treatment. There’s a petition on its way for Medicare to pay for screening for those at higher risk, and that’s a start but not enough.

    And survivor guilt is rampant among Vietnam vets; that’s where I first heard about it back in the mid to late 70s. Survivor guilt is the same whether it’s Nam or cancer or a hurricane; it’s like ‘why me’ in reverse.

  6. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Ruth. I believe there is a reason for everything and questioning that reason is a very normal thing. But we may never know the answer. The best we can do is live every moment.
    I’ve had two family friends who have died of lung cancer who have never smoked – but it certainly does carry that stigma which is very frustrating.

  7. You’ve asked a tough question Ruth, one that people have been asking since Biblical days — and probably before that. No one on earth knows that answer for sure. Which I guess, is why so much comes down to faith. Keep yours strong, and carry on, Ruth! Maybe we’ll get the answers in our next life.

Ruth passed away from cancer. Please remove from list

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