Guilt isn’t always a negative thing. In some circumstances guilt can make us partake in self examination and can fuel self improvement. In other circumstances you don’t have the ability to improve your particular situation and self improvement isn’t possible in the way you wish it were.
Guilt. It took awhile for me to be able to come up with a word that really described how I was feeling but once I did, it felt like everything became a little bit clearer. Among guilt for every day offenses, I have read a lot about survivors guilt and parental guilt in particular. I happened upon these things while I was searching for cancer guilt. Not guilt after you survive but the guilt that becomes your companion the day you’re diagnosed. I couldn’t find much on the topic which was frustrating when I was searching for ways to combat the effects my cancer has had on me mentally. While my internal guilt manifests itself in small outbursts, tears, and bouts of anxiety and depression, these side effects unfortunately impact those around me. I am tired of the way I feel towards myself taking a toll on others. Let me be clear that in no way have people made me feel guilty for having cancer. In this post I’m going to talk a lot about other people but it’s very much all my personal feelings.
I’m sure some of you may be thinking what I have told myself time and time again “Maegan, if you cannot change your situation, change your way of thinking about it!” and I promise you I am trying. It is just must easier said than done! In my effort to feel better and find ways to help others learn to forgive themselves when feeling guilty about something they cannot control, I stayed up one night coming up with a formula and a game plan. It’s not like me to be super organized but hell, it’s worth a try. I think this information could be used for many types of guilt but mine will focus on living with cancer. Before I begin telling you what I have come up with, I’d like to share some things that bog me down every once in awhile in hopes that others can relate and it can normalize some of their guilt as well.
Don’t stop reading because you think this is a bummer post, the end is the best part!
- Work- I’ll start by saying that my workplace has been extremely supportive since my diagnosis. I am taking FMLA but when I am able to work, I am met with kindness and empathy. I take a lot of pride in my work and I thrive on pushing myself and seeing progress. Not being able to work regularly has taken a toll on my feelings of self worth and confidence in my abilities. I feel useless on the days I cannot go into work and I worry that I am making things harder on my boys and other staff members. I feel terrible that my co-workers have to do their jobs as well as mine when I cannot be there. How can you repay others when they’re so selfless and without their assistance you may not have a job? I am forever thankful for their understanding and patience with me. (I imagine someone going to school and having to take time out could relate to some of these feelings).
- Dog- This is no way is comparable to parental guilt so I’ll go ahead and put that out there before someone calls me on it. BUT I feel like my dog, Wedge, is my child. If anyone knows him they know his expressive face and medical needs (daily pills and weekly injections for allergies) as well as his passion for pawing people for attention (he is a Great Pyrenees and this is something they call a “Pyr paw”). Since all of this happened it’s hard to give him the attention he needs and make sure he isn’t feeling neglected. Nick does a great job of stepping up and taking him on walks when I cannot but I feel bad when I try to venture out with him and our walks end up being 10-15 minutes because I’m bent over trying not to pass out. I have also forgotten to give him his meds on several occasions. While I’m listing things, I have also yelled at him for pyr pawing me (I can’t bleed for risk of infection or not clotting) and the poor guy gets so confused. Is this a dog, yes. Is it “just” a dog? No. Don’t judge me.
- Family- Wedge would probably not be alive if it weren’t for Nick and the help of my parents. They watch him when we need them to, take him to the vet, and make sure he is taken care of. Among that, they have been at every appointment I have had and always go out of their way to make sure I am safe, comfortable, and that my husband is also taken care of. They have been patient, kind, and understanding when I am grouchy or crying or angry at the world. They even drove up to Waco for my first Taxol treatment to give me support so Nick didn’t have to take off work. I remember dreading calling them to tell them about my diagnosis because I felt like it was my fault. I was already picturing the appointments they would have to take off work for, the money they would spend on letting Nick and I stay with them, and the patience they would need to take in their daughter, son-in-law, and grand dog in the midst of wedding madness. I felt just as bad for Nick’s family, both immediate and extended. You’re marrying someone with cancer? No, they never asked this but in my head I was wondering what they could possibly be thinking. They knew that their son was signing up for a roller coaster and while they could have been apprehensive or unsupportive of our union, they were anything but. His family embraced me along with my illness, and showered me with love. They sent notes, gifts, encouraging texts, and continue to do so to this day. In regards to both my family and Nick’s family, I think most of my guilt comes from the possibility of me not being able to give them grandchildren. While both moms (separately) told me before I was even diagnosed that they would never pressure me to have kids, I have convinced myself that it’s a gift I might never get the opportunity to give them. I also feel that if I die young, I have done nothing but left them a heartbroken son(-in-law) behind. I hate the thought of hurting our loved ones and while it sounds absurd, I feel guilty about dying.
- Faith- When I was first diagnosed I heard three things all of the time- 1. God gave this to you because you can handle it (well apparently He doesn’t know me as well as he thinks he does) 2. You will survive because you are faithful 3. There’s a reason God gave you cancer. Nope. While I know some of those things bring comfort to others, they didn’t do much for me. I appreciate the sentiment and the fact that anyone took the time to reach out to support me. I quickly began feeling guilty because when I was/am mad at God I have to think “wait, if I’m not faithful enough maybe he will kill me” or “maybe I got this because I wasn’t faithful enough.” I feel pressured to suddenly become very religious and this feel artificial to me, like I’m signing up for a free Amazon prime trial to get free shipping but after I make my purchase I immediately cancel my trial. Did that make any sense? It did in my head.
- Friends- I told all of my close friends within an hour of me getting diagnosed. I listened to my best friend cry over the phone and I was so pissed I couldn’t hop through the phone and hug her. While they all stepped up and went above and beyond to go through with my bachelorette party and ask people to write me encouraging letters for chemo, I knew they were hurting and I hated that. It got to a point where I started not hearing from some of them very much and I would eventually find out that it was because they were going through a hard time and didn’t know how to tell me. They were afraid that their problems couldn’t compare to mine. I felt terrible like I had made them feel our friendship wasn’t a safe space and that they couldn’t confide in me. When I needed to just talk to someone, tell a cancer joke, or send a photo of my newly bald head I was sometimes met with silence. They didn’t know if they should laugh or if they were supposed to be sad. I understand it’s a hard line to walk when you love someone with cancer. With other friends cancer became a wedge in our friendship as I noticed they slowly stopped contacting me all together. They were too uncomfortable and this diagnosis was too much for them. I blamed myself. Maybe they were embarrassed, intimidated, tired of hearing about it? Cancer tends to come up in many of my conversations with friends and I always wonder where the line is drawn and their empathy dissapates. Are they tired of hearing about my appointments? Are they sick of me complaining about hurting today or not feeling myself? “Yeah we get it Maegan, cancer sucks”. If that day comes will they tell me or will they fade away and talk about me behind my back and complain about how they’re so over cancer. Well, me too girl. I’m even having to miss one of my best friends weddings in Mexico. I was supposed to be the Matron of Honor in October but due to chemo I cannot travel. She was next to me at my wedding and unfortunately I won’t be able to be there for the best day of her life.
- Self- Ugh. Y’all, I am SO over cancer. Now that I have shaved my head it’s very hard to pretend it’s not a thing when I’m walking around the house. I wonder a lot as to why I have a cancer which very quickly turns to blame. This past Tuesday (8/9) I met with my temporary oncologist in Waco who is overseeing my Taxol treatments. He looked over my family history, my age, my triple negative status, and my negative genetics testings and told me not once, but 3-4 times that he had no idea why I had cancer. He asked if I had ever been exposed to radiation so I explained I have had kidney stones since before 1st grade so I have had A LOT of tests and scans but he said it was unrelated. My mom is convinced it’s from aluminum in deodorant, especially the high amounts in clinical strength antiperspirant (now I use Tom’s brand and it’s amazing, you should look into aluminum free). I have no idea why I got it but I constantly rack my brain as to what I could have done to make this happen when it just wasn’t supposed to happen to me. If you have been reading this blog you will also notice that I have not been eating super healthy since being diagnosed. I can feel the judgement when people talk to me about me eating cupcakes. Stay in your own lane people. Those I love tell me that if I am eating at all, it’s a positive thing. Also, I cannot lose any weight before November or I won’t have enough fat to give me my desired boob size for surgery. I have my reasons but it doesn’t stop me from telling myself to eat a bunch of kale and seaweed (gross, I hate both of those things). Related to my last blog, I have recently been reminded that I could have it a lot worse. Any time I think to myself “I can’t do this” I am reminded that so many people are fighting so much worse. Nick tells me not to compare my illness to other people so I try to focus on my current situation to keep from feeling like a self centered B.
- Husband- Oh, this one is a doozy. “Baby, (*sniffle*) I have cancer.” We don’t call each other baby so I’m not sure why I said that but the next thing I heard was “Where are you? I’ll be leaving Waco in 15 minutes.” Three weeks before we’re supposed to tie the knot and now we’re fighting cancer. WHAT. THE. HELL. The things I feel guilty about regarding Nick didn’t flood me at once but have slowly come to light the farther we get into this thing. Immediately it was that he couldn’t marry me. On several occasions whether it be in bed, in the car, on the shower floor, I cried and begged him to find someone else. I told him I would understand but that he deserved someone unbroken. I was no longer the person he proposed to and after this was all over I would no longer physically be the person he asked to spend the rest of his life with. At first he met me with consolation but eventually it turned to founded frustration. “I’m not going anywhere and you cannot make me leave.” “What have I ever done to make you think I am the type of person that would leave you like this?”” I love you no matter what. We’re a power couple.” “This is just a part of our story now.” These amazing words were met with tears and me convincing myself that he would regret this months down the line. When the co-pays and bills began coming in and I was not able to work, the financial guilt set in. Because of the GoFundMe that was set up for me, we have been able to get by and pay for bills and much needed things. I more so felt guilty that he was working and coming home to a sick wife. On the days I had treatment in Austin he would work an 8 hour day and then drive and hour and a half to be with me while I recovered. Never with a complaint even though I could see the exhaustion on his face. As time went on the realization that I may never have kids kicked in. I would cry and apologize that I would never be able to give him a biological child of his own. The life we had envisioned just a month earlier had completely changed and we were having to re-write our story and hope for as many chapters as possible. I have only seen Nick cry maybe a handful of times and only twice since my diagnosis. One of those times was as we laid in bed together and I explained all of the research I had done that day on recurrence rates and survival rated for triple negative breast cancer. I was livid that here we were, after searching and finding the people we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with, our plans filled with children, traveling, and dogs may be cut entirely too short because of me. I hope more than anything that I make it to 31 but if I don’t what was all of this for? We cried together at the thought of only getting 7 years total together when we had planned for nothing short of a lifetime. It just doesn’t seem fair.
I’d like to share with you the vows that Nick and I wrote each other for the wedding after I was diagnosed. Before I get to that I’ll first show you the plan I have for myself to in order to combat some of my guilt and get me back on the right track followed by some ideas that have helped me thus far.
1. This is what I jotted down the other night.
I began with listing where my guilt originated and why. Next I wrote down how this guilt made me feel and how it manifested. After that I marked out the word “apologize” because let me tell you, people are sick of me apologizing. Like I said earlier, family, friends, co-workers, Nick. They have all been nothing short of amazing so when I say sorry for being a burden, they hate it and quickly tell me to stop being ridiculous. So if apologizing isn’t going to work, I have to come to terms with the fact that this guilt is self-inflicted. It is all in my head. I brainstormed about what I could do to counteract this because simply being positive wasn’t cutting it. That’s when I found this quote by Jack Kornfied…
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete”
YES, JACK, YES!
I work in a helping profession so 99% of my compassion is spent on others instead of practicing self care and putting some compassion aside for myself! So whether you’re a mama or dad struggling with parental guilt, you’re a survivor who doesn’t know why you’re still here, you’re going through cancer and you feel like you’re a bummer to everyone. When you see the effect but you cannot locate the cause. Do not automatically blame yourself. Show yourself some compassion. I consider compassion to be a fabulous mix of empathy, love, and forgiveness. Do we not all deserve this? I ended my little formula with “allow yourself to heal!” and I think this is appropriate for many of us, no matter what you’re healing from or what healing looks like to you.
2. Set up small goals. A couple of weeks ago I woke up in a bit of a rut because I didn’t have the energy to go to work or to do any work around the house. I was accomplishing absolutely nothing (people told me “you’re fighting cancer” which yes, I am, but I needed something I could do and see results) and I was feeling useless. The first thing I decided to do was to create small goals for myself. Right now my goal is to clean out our third room and make it into the office. I have had to be very patient with myself because it’s a mess and because I can only make small dents in it every once in awhile. You know what? It’s taking a long time but every time I do something small in that room I feel that it looks better and I am contributing to our home. Nick had a great idea to make me a list of small things to do around the house so that I could mark off things and feel like I was helping. It included things like fold the towels, move laundry from washer to dryer, and write 5 wedding thank you notes. It took me about two days to do 10 things but I did it! This was extremely helpful. Please remember to give yourself a break and to celebrate small things instead of dwelling on not being able to do big things.
3. While it’s hard to change your thinking and stay positive, sometimes it’s easier to make a promise to yourself or someone else to help hold you accountable. I decided that to make the ultimate promise to myself and my future husband, I needed to write it in my vows and say it in front of all of our loved ones. I was going to call myself out, my biggest fear, and I was going to do it in a way that would hold me accountable for life (also, Nick loves being able to call me out about breaking vows if I even get near mentioning it). Interestingly enough when I went back and read our vows, I noticed that we both mentioned Nick being my rock. This is so incredibly true. Even more today as we celebrate our two month anniversary!!! We’re not the type to celebrate monthly things but little milestones seem even more important to me now. So, I have been wanting to do this for awhile and I think it’s the perfect way to end this blog. I would like to share with you our vows! I asked Nick to go first because I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to talk after reading mine. We both got choked up and still talk about how this was the most special and memorable moment of the day for us.
I promise to always be your best friend, and be the best friend I can be.
You are the most caring, thoughtful, and funny person I have ever met. If I could have imagined my perfect spouse, she would have fallen short of you.
Time spent with you is always time well spent. I promise to keep creating memories with you so our lives can be rich in love.
Regardless of how good or bad my day is going, it’s always made better when I see the adorable freckles on your face. Part of me is still in disbelief that you’ve chosen to be with me, but I’m going to continue to do my best not to blow it.
I promise to walk alongside you forever. Your joy will be our joy and your sadness will be our sadness. I will share in your triumphs and be your rock through your sorrows. There is nothing you will ever have to face alone, because I will always be there with you.
Currently, we only have Wedge, but I know there will be a healthy mix of puppies and babies. You’re an amazing mother to him and I will continue to try to emulate the love, kindness, and patience you show him.
I promise to continue to work with you to create a home where love can grow. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.
I love you and am grateful that you love me back.
Even before you asked me, I knew that I was yours. I stand before you with no hesitation or doubt as my love and commitment to you are absolute.
I look back on our years together and wonder how life felt complete without you in it. Your selflessness, your humor, and your compassion bring so much light into the world and I am better because of it. I am grateful every single day that you have chosen me to experience life with.
As we begin this new adventure as husband and wife, I make these promises to you with all of my heart:
I promise to take you as you are, unapologetically Nick, and to nurture and love the person you grow to be,
I promise to support your dreams , hobbies, and goals. Whether your ventures are successful or are learning experiences, I’ll be here to celebrate, encourage, comfort, and console you.
I promise to give you time to process things and when you’re ready, be here to listen compassionately and respond with honesty & respect.
I promise to never ask you to leave just because I’m afraid you won’t stay. In sickness and in health you have been my rock, my safe place, and my strength when I could not summon my own.
Lastly, I cannot promise you perfection or that I won’t drive you crazy, but I can promise to try. To love you wholly, deeply, and always. To provide laughter alongside every trial along the way.
From this day forward, whatever my come, it’s you and me through all of our years and whatever life may bring.
Happy 2 month anniversary, love.
As for the rest of you, thanks for allowing me to be vulnerable and share some insight. I hope you allow yourself to take time to show yourself some compassion.
P.S. I thought this was cool. This is Nick’s daily Star Wars calendar today and it’s what I had inscribed on the inside of his wedding band!