A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on survivor’s guilt–how it can be the monster under the bed when you receive positive news or pass a milestone in your healing process. A few days after that, I had the privilege of discussing survivor’s guilt with the #bcsm (breast cancer and social media) community. That conversation was lively (you can read the transcript here), and included folks experiencing other cancers as well. And there were several statements during that hour that caught my attention. Brenda, who blogs at Breast Cancer Sisterhood, said this:
When a friend is diagnosed I hope to give them knowledge & comfort no one gave to me. No guilt.
Chat participant @3lainess stated:
Action helps guilt for me – writing, asking questions, making contacts. Important not to feel isolated.
And then Anne Marie Ciccarella, who uses her blog and Twitter handle to inform and educated about the aftereffects of chemo–and so much more, said this:
Taking action. Doing SOMETHING. Clearing a path for another. Holding a hand. Lending an ear. Offering a shoulder. All ease my guilt.
And with the accumulation of those statements, I knew that there needed to be a “Part II” for the post on survivor’s guilt. I included several coping suggestions in the first post, but I did not explicitly include a suggestion that seems to be the most important and valuable: take action.
What Does “Take Action” Mean?
Taking action can be anything that allows you to feel as though you are transforming your survival into a gift for others. Maybe you participate actively in a survivor’s group that has a lot of newly diagnosed folks–either in person or online. Maybe you talk with friends and family members of the newly diagnosed about how they can be most supportive to their loved ones. Maybe you offer your phone number as a resource for someone to call when they are feeling overwhelmed and stuck.
The way that you take action is wide open–so you can custom tailor it to your own energy level, available time, and personality style. You don’t have to become a power volunteer. Taking action doesn’t require that you sacrifice your health (physical or emotional) to help others. Instead, it means that you remain open to learning how your experiences can smooth the road for someone else. You become willing to let your journey inspire hope instead of miring you in guilt and regret.
Why Does Taking Action Matter?
As I discussed in the first post on survivor’s guilt, one of the pieces that makes survivor’s guilt feel so difficult and heavy is that it is actually a combination of several emotions–a “toxic sludge” of grief, fear, and guilt. Taking action to turn your health into a gift to others can help push back against that toxic sludge. Taking action allows you to move past the sense of being frozen to a sense of your own power to help others. And taking action can help ease some of the fear and helplessness that follow a serious diagnosis. Taking action allows you to become a “proactive survivor,” as described by Trisha Torrey.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the idea of taking action as a response to survivor’s guilt.
Image Credit: Silhouettes of Tomorrow by ajusticenetwork via Flickr