Thursday, March 02, 2006


I feel incredibly guilty about relapsing.

Okay, first off, I know this is absurd. Not only do I know it is absurd, people I love have explained to me that it is absurd. That’s important. If Bob said to me, How could you do this? I would be devastated. Bob is doing just the opposite. He thinks of this as something happening to us. Primarily to me, but to us. Affecting us.

Before I thought I would just get through. That was in the days when the prognosis was We'll cure you. It won't be fun, but it won’t be horrible.

Now the prognosis is We'll probably cure you. It will be difficult, but we will do our best to make you as comfortable as possible. We'll take good care of you.

I find myself thinking again and again, I hate this.

I hate this.

I hate this.

Yesterday, Adam’s friend Jason came over. Jason is home on leave before being deployed in Iraq. I told him I had relapsed and he said it sucked and I agreed. He said, "Maureen, I don't know what to say," and I said yeah, what is there to say? I explained that it was why I hated telling people.

Suddenly it occurred to me that Jason also goes through this. I said to him, "It's like when you tell civilians that you're going to Iraq."

He understood instantly. "You've got to be honest," he said.

"Right," I said.

It was great. We talked about the ways it was the same, and the ways it was different. But it was nice to talk to someone who has the same sort of experience. Then he stayed for dinner. It was a nice night.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Maureen. Louise sent me. I'm so sorry you are going through this. I completely relate to your feelings. I have often said myself that the guilt of relapsing would be overwhelming. I'll be here to offer my support as you face this monster one more time. My best to you always.

March 02, 2006 11:42 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

I'm sure this isn't much help, but you know we do blame the cancer, and not you. (Support the troops but oppose the war, sort of thing.)

March 03, 2006 4:28 AM  
Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

"It's like when you tell civilians that you're going to Iraq."

That is a brilliant analogy.

Inhale. Decorate with sheets. I miss you.

March 03, 2006 4:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jo Walton here.

There are certain subjects that when someone brings them up they totally prevent conversation about anything else, and yet there's nothing to say.

I think with cancer, with going off to war, with mentioning close family members who are dead, it just seems so overwhelming to the other person they can't respond -- they want to help, but there's nothing to do that would help, and it leads to helplessness and embarrassment. It shouldn't be embarrassing -- I mean these people would literally gnaw off their arms if it would help, how can they be embarrassed because nothing will immediately help? But there it is.

This sucks.

March 03, 2006 8:13 AM  
Blogger Greg van Eekhout said...

It must be a relief to find someone who can understand the extraordinary emotions one faces at times like this. Sounds like it was a good time for Jason to come over for dinner.

March 03, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Maureen I understand the guilt perfectly. I felt guilty when I was diagnosed, then again a few times during treatment, and now -- now that I am in an uncertain remission -- now I feel guilty again.

It's ridiculous, and obviously it flies in the face of all reason, but I do think it's quite natural. You never want to bring pain or heartache into a relationship, or cause those you you love to be afraid. You know rationally that you've caused nothing, that it's something from outside that has invaded your safe home, but we're talking emotion here, not reason.

Like you, I'm still in it -- we don't yet have the peace of longterm perspective. From this very present perspective, I don't think the guilt will ever entirely pass. I do think it will lessen, and I think other emotions will push it from the fore into a small and unproductive corner.

I love that you and Jason had that shared experience. I liked what Jo Walton had to say about others' receipt of news like yours and Jason's -- she nailed it.

Oh well. It just is what it is, right? Thank god you have a sense of humor.

March 03, 2006 12:10 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

The human mind is a funny beast, ain't it?

I spoke yesterday with the mother of the boy who was hit by a truck. She thinks I saved his life -- itself a non-rational response, since there is no way of knowing -- and every once in a while she calls to ask how I am doing, and then talks about her boy's rocky progress for an hour or two. My life is now linked with theirs, and I try to be as helpful as I can (which isn't much).

The kid, now nearly eighteen, is going through the full range of irrational responses to his terrible injury, which seems moreover to have compromised his "executive function." (As if a teenaged boy has much of one in the best of times.) But among his storm of feelings there is, yes, guilt over being hit by a truck. Of course, since the truck didn't mount the sidewalk to hit him, there probably was some fault on his part. (He was in the middle of the road, and wasn't wearing a bike helmet.) But his mother assures me that he feels no guilt over not wearing the helmet -- no 16-year-old would have considered it even an issue. So he isn't even feeling personally responsible in a reasonable way.

Perhaps anyone not a psychopath is subject to irrational convictions of guilt. I was once accused (by an unstable individual) of something very bad, and felt -- among all the other responses -- something very like shame. =I= knew I hadn't done what she had accused me of, or anything like it, but to know that she was spreading word among peers and colleagues sufficed to provoke (in addition to anger) waves of burning shame. Is that very different from guilt?

Maybe irrational guilt is an inescapable result of having a conscience.

March 03, 2006 3:11 PM  
Blogger Autumn said...

I get it. While our illnesses are not the same, I feel the guilt of being sick. My life is forever changed, and the lives of those I love is forever changed. Last year, during the great OMG-is-she-going-to-die time, I felt wretched for putting those I love through that. It was hell for me, why make those I loved so much hurt as well.

I still struggle. Sometimes, people in my life, because my illness is so long term, blame me too. It's frustrating. I remember this:

They, and I, are mad at the illness, not at me.

Repeat it in your head if it helps. This is not my fault, it is the disease.

March 04, 2006 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And then there's survivor's guilt. Why am I still alive when people who are equivalently sick have died? I just keep telling myself that we're all different and I didn't do anything to make me different. (One of my doctors says I'm too stubborn to die.)

It sounds like talking to Jason was a good idea. There's nothing you did to relapse, you just need to keep going.

March 08, 2006 7:47 PM  

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