I was interviewed by a radio station back in 2014, and when I was asked how I felt about my cancer diagnosis, I said guilty.
This was less about my diagnosis, and more about surviving. I suffer immensely with survivor’s guilt. It’s a very common problem for people living in cancer remission (see above picture), but not widely known outside of the remission community. I would love for this to change. I think it is imperative in helping people understand the difficulty in seeking mental health treatment as a person living in cancer remission.
Survivor’s guilt is defined as ‘a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress experienced by someone who has survived an incident in which others died.’
It is clear to see why cancer is such a common cause.
Survivor’s guilt stopped me from seeking mental health care for my whole adolescence. I felt that I couldn’t tell anyone about my sadness because I would seem ungrateful for surviving, especially knowing the low survival rates of my particular cancer.
After counselling, I now have a new philosophy when it comes to sadness in remission. It weirdly came from seeing an interview of a woman who’s fiancé had died, and she wanted to be with a someone new but felt like she couldn’t out of respect for him. After explaining this, her grief counsellor told her that she would honour him by giving the love that he taught her to someone else, not disrespect him. And that he would want her to be happy and feel that love again.
I felt a clear connect with this, and realised that I would be honouring people who do not survive cancer by living as happily, fully, and authentically as possible. And in order to do this, I had to ask for help with my mental health; and subsequently enjoy life a lot more. I now think it is actually more selfish to refuse mental help than accept it, as we can all improve with the help of others. Personally, I have has CBT, talking therapy, and reiki treatment to treat mental illness.
So if you ever feel ashamed for seeking mental health care while living in remission, remember that it is a worthwhile investment into yourself and your happiness, which will continue to honour people who do not survive cancer.
In conclusion; do whatever you need to do in order to live your best life! Whether that involves taking anti-depressants, having talking therapy, or simply practising self-love – you owe it to yourself and others.
If you’re reading this as a family or friend of someone living in remission, maybe you could try starting a conversation about mental wellbeing with them while addressing survivors guilt, to show that you understand the complication it gives to seeking mental health care.