Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Pick a Card, Any Card
On a whim I had an online Tarot card reading. I can hear the gasps as members of my family read that line. I know, I know. Yes, it is pagan (What a word! How often do you use that word? I’ll have to work it in this post again!). It is definitely not an answer to WWJD? It was a whim. You know, something to do for fun and not to be taken seriously. The card in my “Higher Power” position was interpreted as “You should have elected this for special reasons -- you knew you were strong enough; it wouldn't be fatal or cause permanent damage; and in your great compassion you saw that you could help others whose vulnerability or fragility would make this experience too devastating for them.” I started to think. . . . .

Just a few days ago I wrote about a friend of mine who just finished radiation. Early on in her diagnosis we spoke to each other about possible treatments she might face. She was very worried about chemotherapy. She is self-employed and was developing a list of questions about how treatment for breast cancer would affect her life. When she realized that she didn’t need chemotherapy, she told me with excitement then embarrassingly turned her head away and said she felt bad boasting about it when I had to face it. I didn’t feel badly that she didn’t need chemo – just the opposite! Who would wish that on a friend? I’ve grown to understand how she felt though. To some degree, it is a form of survivor guilt.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy defines survivor guilt as a deep sense of guilt felt by those who survived some catastrophe. Survivors often feel that they are unworthy relative to the perished or those who have suffered more in comparison. By definition, there is an implied comparison with people who have endured similar ordeals. Although survivor guilt was first associated with survivors of the Holocaust, the term is now more widely associated with many more applications including chronic or catastrophic illness.

Instead of examining the “why me?” syndrome, survivor guilt is all about the “why not me?” feelings. I find these feelings especially prevalent when interacting with fellow cancer bloggers. I was devastated for Cancer, Baby when she wrote about her recurrence. My heart breaks for Louise, Rae, Jen, and Spike when they write about facing infertility in their twenties. Sandee is going through terrible problems because of her compromised immune system and the side effects of the chemo. Sandee is full of so much love for her family and for life and she spends so much of her time comforting all of us. Lori and Cary have been sharing their experiences that started just seven weeks after they married. Their love is amazing. Shelly is a new friend that writes with eloquence about dealing with life and her recurrence of cervical cancer (her August 1 entry is beautiful). Mary is new to the journey and has already had her share of ups and downs.

A huge part of me is so grateful for finding people with similar experiences. Another part of me, the fixer, wants to make things better. I would take their burdens, if I could, if it made things easier for them. Even though I have been embracing my joy and humming every tune I hear, I wrestle with these feelings. I hate to see pain or suffering. I don’t like to experience it either, but somehow feel that I can handle more than my share so someone else doesn’t have to experience as much. While I feel blessed to be cancer free and well on the road to recovery, deep down I need others to join me to validate this positive experience. If they are well, I can be well too. I need somehow to find a healthy balance of embracing my own joy and empathizing with others.

Hmmm… that one (pagan, evil, bad) card was indeed revealing for me. I pulled the card, either by fate or chance, that described me. Either that or all the stories of Christian martyrs recalled from my youth told by Catholic nuns with Irish accents had a slightly unhealthy impact on my perception of compassion. Now pardon me while I go say some rosaries, thumb through my holy cards, and try to get the other cards out of my mind. Where is my holy water?

(By the way, I’m still singing!)
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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