It’s now about 3 weeks since the completion of my chemotherapy and radiation. My strength is returning, nausea is gone, no chest pain or swallowing discomfort, less short of breath and I am increasing my activity.
I stopped my oxycodone about a week ago after being on the narcotic for about 5 months. Withdrawal was no joke. I was shaky, had chills, and insomnia for a few days but now I actually feel normal.
You would think this is all good news but to my amazement survivor’s guilt is already setting in.
I know all too well that not everybody responds to treatment and improves. Some of my former patients are relapsing, struggling and continuing to suffer while I’m enjoying a remission. So, I feel a little guilty.
I also must admit that my past experience with suffering, although quite unpleasant, was associated with a feeling of closeness to God and a feeling of communion with fellow sufferers. It also was quite informative and educational. I guess pain can have some beneficial effects, at least for some people, especially if they have underlying masochistic tendencies.
Up until recently, a major purpose and focus in my life was treating cancer patients. More recently, a major focus in my life was being a cancer patient and enduring the treatments. So today I am wondering, “What now”?
As I ponder my present predicament, I am beginning to realize that this “survivor’s guilt” may have a higher purpose, and that purpose I will call remembrance. This lingering guilt may prompt one to remember past suffering and also prompt one to acquire an “attitude of gratitude”.
Remembrance is a central component of my Jewish faith.
We remember the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. We remember God’s deliverance from bondage. We remember receiving the Law at Mount Sinai. We remember entering into the promised land of Israel. We remember the destruction of the temple and the exile to Babylon. We remember those who died in the holocaust and we remember the establishment of the modern state of Israel. The history of the Jewish people is one of both suffering and deliverance.
Most importantly for me as a follower of Jesus, I remember my personal experience of deliverance from the bondage of sin.
Jesus said as he took the Passover bread and wine, “Do this in remembrance of me”. So, I remember how he suffered and died for me. This also is a type of survivor’s guilt, for we do not deserve the grace and mercy He bestows on us.
Hopefully this “guilt” will motivate us to identify with those who suffer and help us to have an attitude of gratefulness.
We must not forget those who continue to struggle with cancer and those who are sick with Covid.
We must not forget those who are oppressed and those who suffer from racism and bigotry.
Our survivor’s guilt hopefully will motivate us to remember those who suffer and to perform what the Jews call Mitzvot, good works, acts of loving kindness, for faith without works is dead.