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Chronic Snarkopolist: Survivors Guilt and Jealousy

Post Published: 23 June 2011
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Category: chronic autoimmune conditions column, Chronic Snarkopolist, Column
This post currently has 14 responses. Leave a comment

Hello my loves!

One brilliant amazing patient advocate reported some cancer patients sometimes find themselves emotionally comparing themselves and their stages of illness to other patients during cancer retreats.  They then feel both guilt and jealousy depending on how the other patients are doing.

If someone is very ill and not responding to treatment, they feel guilty for being in remission or doing well on that treatment.  If someone’s surgery went well or their scars look amazing they find themselves jealous over it.  It is an intriguing phenomena because it is rarely discussed.

I have heard similar types of issues from other arenas.  Some people report feeling angry for perceived wheel chair abuse.  “I am always stuck in my chair and I don’t think she is sick enough if she can go out dancing one weekend and then require a wheel chair the next.”   Is this wheel chair abuse? Or is this a reflection of how varying bodies and illness can be.  Some autoimmunities like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can flare unexpectedly or be especially uncomfortable at certain times of the day.  If someone needs a cane in the morning to get around but does not need it in the evening, are they faking joint pain? Or is their inflammation simply eased up by the afternoon?

Understanding our reactions to patients who do better, heal, go into remission, or get much sicker than us is important though.  It needs to be talked about.  It is my belief that we are all in this together.  By bringing these topics up and we can openly discuss our own feelings and emotional reactions.  We can allow that they happen without judging ourselves or putting more pressure on ourselves to be beyond human.  It is already hard enough to navigate the healthcare arena.  Now we have to navigate our own emotional reactions to other patients, some with whom we have become very close.

What are our strategies for dealing with our complex or contradictory emotions? Do we express them? Do we hold them inside? Do we blog about them? Is sharing safe? Or is it better to not state them for fear of further hurting people who are already struggling? How do we navigate this?

No one gave us a map to being a patient. And no one told us our emotions would get involved, not only with our own process, but with others healing as well.  I would love to hear what you think. These are powerful issues.  And we rarely even admit to it, let alone discuss “emotional reactions to other patients” as part of our process.  What do you think? Please tell me! I must know!

I will see you same time next week! Kiss kiss!

-Melissa

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14 Responses to “Chronic Snarkopolist: Survivors Guilt and Jealousy”

  1. jesbtea says:

    I’m really glad you brought this to light. I’ve struggled with guilt and jealousy both, as I think most of us have. My biggest hurdle has been this I-have-cancer-but-it’s-just-thyroid-cancer complex. I think it stems from my diagnosis when my endocrinologist said that it was the “easy cancer” and put this idea into my head that it wasn’t as bad as other forms of cancer. Cancer is cancer…it’s all bad. The lucky few that have one surgery and/or treatment, I think are exactly that-few. My own personal experience has been a long, emotional, exhausting process and I find myself feeling guilty for having the emotions that I do and for feeling like my exhaustion isn’t warranted. I feel like I’m making excuses when I have to go home early from work because I barely have the energy to hold my eyes open let alone complete an 8 hour day/40 hour week. And I find myself jealous of those who haven’t had the struggles I have had or who have gotten pregnant during the whole process while I have struggled for nearly 4 years to get pregnant. Then I feel guilty for feeling jealous & guilty because my journey hasn’t been as bad as someone else’s. This is absolutely the most complicated thing I’ve ever been through in my life and there is no one solution to fix the “emotional rollercoaster” other than to talk. We should talk without fear of offending someone else or feeling like we’re whining or making excuses…all of us have had to have felt this way at one point or another in our journeys & we should be there for each other. We’re all in this together. 🙂

    • Mary Ann says:

      @jesbtea…very well stated!

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Wow – Thank you so much for your amazing words jesbtea. There is NO good cancer or easy cancer. There just isn’t.

      Your words are so moving and real… and your story is so very real… what each person goes through is stunningly individual yet each of us can reach out and be together in the process.

      And yes yes yes we are all in this together.

      x to the o
      Melissa

  2. Jody Schoger says:

    My dear friend,

    Thank you for a wonderful post, and yes, I’m sad to say there is such a thing as the “cancer olympics.” In this scenario you repeat number of surgeries, chemo treatments, etc. Some overstate, some understate but it all boils down to the same thing: identifying, then articulating feelings about the entire process is overwhelming to almost anyone who has come face to face with a chronic and/or threatening illness.

    If we all taught young children not to be afraid to feel things, and to express themselves without fear of retribution (big boys don’t cry…or keep a stiff upper lip) maybe so many could avoid these situations. It helps no one. In all cases honest communication is not established; nor can true and healing listening occur. For true healing

  3. Jody Schoger says:

    I’m sorry –

    For true healing the communication has to be honest. And true communication leaves the speaker feeling vulnerable. But it can happen. We’ve seen it happen.

    And I am so with you: we ARE in this together. With more compassion and LESS comparison we can faciliate a much better conversation.

    love,
    Jody

    • Melissa Travis says:

      My dearest Jody-
      amazing – to think of having a world where people are allowed to FEEL their feelings and not feel “bad or dirty” about them… or put a moniker on them as you described… and also – where we deconstruct health and identity EARLY and quickly so people get used to the notion that we will ALL be patients and go through the process of it to demystify and destigmatize. Yes- this is the world I want to live in too! I’m so grateful for your words and the path we are building together!!!!!!

      xoxo
      Melissa

  4. Kelly says:

    Dear Melissa,

    I have found myself comparing my treatment and recovery to others. In more cases than not I look at my situation and then look at someone who is worse off, and I think, is that the next phase of my illness? What do I have to look forward to other than more cancer and feeling more like crap? Reading of others cancer stories does often make me worry about my own.

    I do feel bad that my treatment has been quite successful, while the next person is till undergoing treatment. It really depends on the day, or if I hear about someone suffering from thyroid problems. Especially now that my situation is doing better, I find myself trying to reach out to others who are ready to give up hope, as I have been in their shoes not long ago. This gives me strength to get out of bed every morning. I just pray my life story gives others a reason to keep fighting.

    Hope this is helpful!

    Love,

    Kelly

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Hello Kelly!

      Reaching out and reaching back is part of the process isn’t it? And sharing our stories- both successful and painful is also ways of both coping and being a productive part of the healing and healthcare community.

      It brings me hope to know that people don’t walk away once they have successfully healed. I’m grateful for you. Thank you so so much for sticking around!!
      xo
      Melissa

  5. @chemo_babe says:

    yes yes yes!!

    i try to observe my reactions: guilt or jealousy. i try not to judge. i can’t help it. i’ve been through a trauma.

    but i try not to stay in them. i try to tell myself, okay, yes. you are jealous cuz she still has her breasts. you feel guilty because she has had a recurrence. but now move on. be present and listen. this is not a contest.

    we cannot be compassionate when we are coming from a perspective of invidious comparison.

    love, CB

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Dearest chemo_babe Y to the es!

      As you know your beautiful thoughts and perspectives are what prompted me to write this article. Your sharing and reaching out and honest reflections and self-reflexivity stun me.

      Yes – it is MANDATORY that we not get stuck in on emotion or another… but I find again and again that my own reactions and emotions can cycle. Sometimes I’ll have a visit or a trigger and I’ll find myself having a re-peat I thought I’d already “moved past.” And I’ll realize, ahhh- I’m so human. hahahha – imagine that!

      This is why I am in love with the notion of sherpas and sharing our process and growing with each other. Illness is another means of growing with and through each other. Your compassion for yourself and others continues to stun me daily.

      xoxo
      Melissa

  6. Supa Dupa Fresh says:

    We see this a lot in the grieving community. We’re very likely to get angry if others judge us, yet we are saying in our minds, “I wish I’d had her life insurance,” or “at least she got to have kids,” or “at least he had a chance to say goodbye.” All kinds of things based on assumptions, often false, as part of The Grief Is Always Greener on the Other Side.

    Many people hate having these conversations as part of the peer support communities I run. They take them very seriously and think they are immune, or don’t want to admit they have made assumptions, or played the game. But I haven’t really found anyone who doesn’t play them. It’s human to compare, and not all comparison is competition.

    I enjoy these exercises because I always learn a place where I’ve made an assumption, even now, and it’s a good way to learn where we are NOT together and learn to come together better. In these conversations, we learn about our similarities by discussing our differences.

    And how can we do that until we know what WE really think?

    X

    Supa

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Lovely post! Thank you so so much for sharing!!!

      While I think it is necessary to remind ourselves that we are all in unique situations and that everyone is different, YES – we need to have these conversations. We need to be willing to lovingly and gently talk about it. If not, we only build up more guilt and resentment.

      Processing our emotions (in whatever ways we must) is the only way to move through it. And moving THROUGH it is how we heal.

      Thank you– so so glad you’ve written in!!!!
      xo
      Melissa

  7. Laurie says:

    This is a marvelous post, and cuts to the core. I simultaneously feel grateful and guilty for surviving, relief, sorrow and fear when it’s her-not-me-this-time. What I find is a treasure in this emotional ride is that it evokes a perspective of empathy and compassion that is unique to those of us who have gone through a life-threatening ordeal.

    On one level or another, I think it’s pretty normal to compare ourselves to others. It’s what we do with that information that counts. From the beginning, it has always given me hope to see someone who was further down this road than I am. It wasn’t a competition, but the comparison helped me believe if she can do it, so can I.

    Whether a blog, words of encouragement or their mere existence, these women helped carry me through every fear and doubt. I feel we’re here to pay it forward to those who see us ahead of them in these harrowing travels.
    xoxo

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Hello gorgeous Laurie,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response and honest reflections.

      Amazing to think we can find treasures isn’t it. Your words and response are so beautiful and honest. Thank you for sharing. And thank you for being a loving healing part of the community! And yes- you do reach out and give back! It is so profound when we find ourselves able to do both have hope and have heal at the same time.

      Adoringly!
      xo
      Melissa

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