How do you cope with survivor’s guilt?

Let me explain… I suffer from survivor’s guilt yet it is my dad who is the survivor not me. So, maybe I should say how do you cope with caretaker-of-parent-survivor-who-faced-a-deadly-cancer guilt?   I know it sounds odd but it’s the truth. My dad faced advanced stomach cancer in late 2013, had a total gastrectomy followed by chemotherapy, targeted therapy infusions, and radiation. He spent one miserable year undergoing treatment and an additional miserable second year trying to recover from having no stomach and treatment toxicity.  It was brutal. He underwent so much without any guarantees that he would even survive it.  In fact, all the odds were stacked against him– something crazy like 4% survival– that he’d get to overcome this stupid cancer. Yet, every time, every. single. time. he faced every challenge –with courage, faith, and hope.

Aki Smith Shigeo tsuruoka stomach cancerSometimes I feel like the worst daughter in the world.  I should be out screaming my heart out with gratitude and I am – but more like whispering it. I am so thankful that now finally getting close to his third year canniversary it is all starting to be feel normal again. We don’t live in a constant state of fear anymore (now it’s only a few days between scans—the usual) and we get to enjoy life. We can make plans for the future– Like real plans that are months away or even years!! All the small things that I took for granted once upon a time. I understand that I am such a lucky daughter. I get to have my dad for a little bit longer (because let’s face it; one day my dad will die and I just hope it has nothing to do with stomach cancer.  Ah shucks, we will all die someday, and I just hope it is way…way later.)  But I do struggle with how to celebrate his life and his milestones without being insensitive to the people who aren’t as lucky.  And it’s such a fine balance. It’s exhausting.  It’s painful. It’s devastating.

dodger-day-1I can’t tell you that I fully understand why I get to keep my dad meanwhile my 29-year-old neighbor died from stomach cancer just months before his 30th birthday. Actually, there is no part of me that understands the fault in our stars. I have this internal struggle with myself all the time and I don’t quite even know if it’s normal or not. Yes, my dad has survivor’s guilt. We can all agree that’s normal. But me? Am I crazy weird? When I see encouraging posts on my social media from friends that lost their own parent, or loved-one from stomach cancer yet they can still unselfishly be genuinely happy for me and my dad… it warms my heart. On the flip side, I get the tougher posts where I get questioned on the why or how. It’s not like I know the secret formula to cure this awful thing–  For reasons unknown, my dad responded to treatment. Or worse yet, when people are so hurt they delete me or unfollow me as a friend. And I feel so bad that I caused that. I caused jealousy, and pain because life is just so unfair. I know they don’t wish badly on us; they just wish their outcome was better. It still hurts very, very much.  Sometimes I want to delete all my social media, give up on all updating and go back to the days of life before cancer. dad-peace

But then I think back to the day we were told my dad has stomach cancer and all I could do was cry. I felt so alone and so scared and I had nobody to turn too. I had this old blog from a lady who died from stomach cancer in 2009 (she predicted she might only have two years and it sadly came true) and a virtual friend with fake cancer… and my husband and my mom. Google wasn’t exactly kind and gentle — are survival statistics really necessary? Seriously! I really thought we were at the beginning of the end.  I remember thinking I wish I had some HOPE. Anything!  I eventually did find hope.  In my dad… It was his optimism and reassurance that he had lived a full life and was ready for whatever to happen. Then we built this amazing team of doctors and my dad went from a Stage IV diagnosis to a Stage IIIB diagnosis just by changing health institutions.  One day—well, more like 2 very long, long years–  depression and hopelessness turned to passion and drive. Above it all, I found my purpose. They say cancer is the best worst thing that can happen, and again, for that too I’m grateful! I seriously appreciate life– Like to a degree that I never ever felt before!  I am happy to wake up every morning. I love to love and no longer have time for hate. Every moment I seize the day. And my needs changed too. I don’t dream about vacations and rainbows. I don’t need fancy stuff, or clothes. What I crave most is to give the one thing I didn’t have back then to my friends affected by stomach cancer… Hope.  I didn’t ever plan on becoming a stomach cancer patient advocate … not ever ever ever…but I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. I have to believe that me sharing and caring does more good than the alternative. So, join me at Hope For Stomach Cancer… and let’s figure out a way to deliver hope together.

Stomach Cancer Awareness Network Hope for stomach cancer

Oh and anybody—if you have any tips, advice, or anything that I can use, give me a shout out. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. At least I hope not.

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One thought on “How do you cope with survivor’s guilt?

  1. Thank you for including me in your journey.  It sounds like things have been going a lot better for your dad and your family. You are on a positive road right now. Get rid of the guilt, and only live for today.  One day at a time is all you can do right now.  Your dad is a real trouper when it comes to being strong.  Greet each day with enthusiasm and hope.  Faith doesn’t hurt either! Love you,Aunt Sandi

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