A Hundred Gs, Part III

January 26, 2011 at 3:52 PM (Energy, Family, friends, Help, kids, mommy guilt, Real Life) (, , , , , , , , , )

(A Hundred Gs, Part II; A Hundred Gs, Part I)

Last week when I met with my therapist, I landed on a theme that keeps coming up for me:


I feel guilty that I’m putting my family and friends through the stress of having to deal with my illness. I feel guilty when my mom drops everything and comes to town to run my life for a few days when I’m having tough treatments or procedures. I feel guilty asking people to stop at the store for me because I know how busy everyone is already, without having to do my stuff, too. I feel guilty when my husband gets home from a busy day at work and then cleans up the kitchen and does two loads of laundry while writing business emails and presentations and I sit on the couch watching Hoarders. (Those people are nuts — look how normal my life is by comparison!)

I know, I know. It’s ridiculous. There’s nothing I did to bring on this disease or its side-effects; guilt is useless. My life “is what it is”, and everyone does what they need to do to live with it and help us all get through it. No one feels that I’m taking advantage of them, or being lazy so I can lie around with the cat and nap all day. Why am I so wrapped up in the guilt?

I’ll break it down a little: I feel guilty because I feel like I’m not pulling my weight. I feel guilty that my disease is making other people make changes in their lives that, if I weren’t sick, they wouldn’t have to make. I feel guilty when, for example, they shower me with Christmas cards and mad money, because “normal” people don’t have that happen to them, and why should I deserve it any more than any other stay-at-home Mom who’s working part-time and keeping a household running? (Which I’m not even really doing much anymore.)

And (here’s the really ugly part) I feel guilty that my husband and kids are going to have to deal with life after me. Not this month, hopefully not for a few more years, but they WILL have to deal with it. And I know they’re resilient, and we’ve laid good groundwork for sharing emotions and feeling strong and loving themselves and coping with bad stuff, but every time I think about “my mom/wife died of cancer” it makes me crazy. Like, life is hard enough to be a kid/tween/teen without that baggage added to your cart. (At least they’ll have something to write about for their college application essays.)

What’s the solution? I know (and hear from others repeatedly) that my guilt is wasted. No one places any of this responsibility on my shoulders. No one thinks I’m being a manipulative slug. And life is like this: just when you think you’ve got everything under control, something goes all catty-wumpus and you have to readjust. Do I just “get over it”? But I’m a mom, guilt is my JOB.

I think it has to go back to my last post: change the guilt to GRATITUDE. Gratitude that I’m still here, despite the odds. Gratitude that I have such a supportive and energetic family. Gratitude that my friends aren’t sick of hearing about Sarah’s Cancer after nearly five years. Gratitude that I still have such a good relationship with my mother that we don’t kill each other after 48 hours (and Mr. W does, too!). Gratitude that we have thoughtful neighbors with snowplows and -blowers. Gratitude that I can still put on every stitch of clothing that I own and take the dog for a walk in the freezing, snowy, beautiful woods. Gratitude that I live in Boston and have access to the most cutting-edge treatments that have been saving my life for months now. (I’m such a proponent of dump-anything-that-is-a-waste-of-energy (i.e., “Why ME????”) that this should be easy.)

Gratitude that anyone out there is still listening!

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  1. David said,

    I’m listening Sarah and I am grateful there are voices out there like yours which express some of the very emotions that I deal with every day. Just know that you help me…we have never met or spoken but you do for me and I am pretty sure I am not the only one.

  2. K said,

    Just wanted to let you know that you have NO idea the most wonderful impact you have had on my life and I DO NOT have cancer.

    I love reading your posts and think, each time I do, you need to write a book. What you say strikes a wonderful, heartwarming cord each time – THANK YOU ! And it is with gratitude that I write you to let you know that you have done so much for me……

  3. Patricia said,

    Grattitude….that I have you …that WE have you … to bring us through too! xxx’s

  4. Mardi said,

    Dear Sarah,

    You are an inspiration to so many of us out here. We love you and when we can help you, it makes us feel good! You are willing to talk about topics that make many of us uncomfortable. You don’t shy away from the really hard topics. Your grace, candor and humor give us permission to breath. In short, you give us so much more than we can ever return to you. Thank you for all that YOU do for us! Love, Mardi

  5. KLarson said,

    On a light note – I love hoarders too. Screw watching martha Stewart and feeling bad about my house. I watch hoarders and think; “hey this place isn’t too bad!”.

    I can totally relate to the guilt thing. I can almost accept what cancer has done to me and my family but when I look at my two kids (ages 3 and 1), I still feel anger, shame, and guilt. When they’re old enough to ask questions, what am I going to say? I want to be honest but I want to protect them too.

    Feeling guilty your right is part of being a mom. Lucky us cancer survivors we just get an extra dose of feeling bad. You’re right about the gratitude too. Can I feel guilty that I’m not always grateful? Sometimes I just want my old back.

    As always thanks for posting a thought provoking topic.

    • Mr. Wonderful said,

      About the kids – we have been pretty open with the kids, never holding anything from them. They started asking about life and death very early with all that was going on in our house. So, we explained about the cycle of life and death and that this is a natural part of our existence. That said, we have not gone into the more hard to deal with details of the disease. Other than to let them know that mommy is sick, that the doctors are doing their best and that we all continue to do our best as a family every day.
      I think the openness has helped them deal with this issue and be very natural about it. Keeping our lives as “normal” as possible even when the chips have been down has also helped.
      Having a family therapist is also a very good idea. We often bounce ideas off of ours and talk through tough issues. We’ve started to include the kids in some of these discussions so they can ask questions and talk about how they feel. it does all help.

  6. Mr. Wonderful said,

    I love you, no matter what.

  7. KLarson said,

    I meant to say that I want my old life back. -pre cancer

  8. Emily said,

    The blessings and the curses go hand in hand. Thanks for feeling and sharing it all.

    God knows I feel gratitude for the fact that stupid cancer brought me into the orbit of your awesomeness.

  9. Connie Reeves said,

    Dear Sarah,
    Yes, we are still listening. Definitely. You are totally amazing. I would venture, though, that all of the people who are helping you also feel a sense of guilt: that they are not sick, that they don’t have to go through this, that their loved one (your neighbors) are not going through this, that a loved one did go through this and they couldn’t help, that they can’t do more, that they can’t take your place, that they can’t protect you or your husband or your kids. There is, I’m sure, enough guilt to go around. This is the time of your life when you should definitely cross guilt off your list. Your family is quite happy, I’m sure, to just have you there, and if it means you’re sitting on the couch watching tv while your husband is doing housework, I’m sure he’d rather be doing the housework just to ease things for you. He can’t do the chemo for you, but he can do the laundry. What everyone is doing for you is an expression of how much they care for you and love you. You would do the same for them, and they know it. But this time, you’re on the receivng end.
    I apologize for not having replied to your thank-you email about the long reading list I sent you. I fully intended to reply with an even better list, perhaps detailed with suggestions by categories, but the holidays, a cruise, and then listlessness set in. But I hope you’ve found some good choices to read. Remember, reading is learning, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. And yet still enjoyable!
    Best wishes,

  10. Kim Ostien said,

    I get it.

    But, I believe that we have been put on this earth not for ourselves but for each other. Is anyone in your life doing anything above and beyond what you would do for them if the roles were reversed? No. And, not sure if you realize but guilt goes both ways. Every day I think and pray for you, as you know, but I feel guilty that I don’t live close enough to help in a physical/tangible way. And to that, I have to remind myself, “If I could, I would” and you have to do the same–if you could do more, you would.

    So yes, time to let go of the guilt….

  11. Jennifer said,

    Sometimes as a mother, there is a certain level of ‘oughtness’ that permiates, and sometimes dictates, our lives. The challenge for us to meet is being able to accept that wherever we are is OK, and that we ‘ought’ not be any less or more than where we are right now! Being able to be there for you as part of your support system is a gift to all of us as well. I am greatful for you! Love you!

  12. tea said,

    One of the toughest things to be is a gracious recipient – especially when you are a natural giver. Giving is simply more fun than receiving.

    You may not realize just how much you give – to your family, friends, readers. I’m betting the amount you give far outweighs the Christmas gifts, snow-blowing chores, etc.

    Keep on rockin’ & writing! We need you!!

  13. Sue Mellusi said,

    Oh Sarah, you just simply have no idea of the impact that you have had on so many people’s lives. PLEASE feel no guilt…you’ve given more than you could ever know. I’ll never stop listening.

    By the way, I’m going to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s on Sat. I’ll be calling you for a grocery list 😉 You just stay snuggled up watching Hoarders.


  14. Christina said,

    hi sarah-
    just a thought-
    you shouldn’t feel guilt. just as a mother cares for her children,spouses care for spouses, siblings care for each other, friends care for friends. when we love someone, we do what we want to do, need to do and have to do. it’s like drawing breath, sleeping, eating. the fact that friends and neighbors reach out and help is a testament to the dedication and the love they have for you. i only wish i was closer… xoxo

  15. Maggie said,

    Ah, the rollercoaster….guilt, gratitude, anger, love. I get what you’re saying. And won’t it be alright? From almost the very first day I found out about my cancer, I said, “it is what it is”. I knew there was no changing the course, but, oh, what a ‘course’ it’s been.

    Stay strong, Sarah, let those friends do their thing. Your past behavior and your present grace has set the ‘course’ for all those who want to help you and yours. We have also been honest with our kids, now 16 and 14, over the past four years and it was the smartest choice we have made along the way. I know they are going to miss me, I hate that they will have to deal with that, but I can’t change it, I can only keep working to stay with them as long as possible. Thanks for spelling out your feelings so nicely, your words are a joy to read and make me feel less lonely.

  16. Jennie said,

    I feel lucky to have been born a WASP because guilt does not rule our (my) world the way in which it does with most of my Catholic and Jewish friends. My advice: Lose the guilt and stick with the GRATITUDE. I know everyone who reads this blog, who lives with you and loves you, and everyone else who knows you, is THANKFUL for your existence (every day of it!) so just accept this is your (and their) new normal and be thankful for all of your tomorrows, regardless of how much help you need to get through them. Seriously. XO

  17. Dee said,

    You have a wonderful way of putting what we OC survivors are feeling into words. Thanks.
    Confession: I can catch me watching Hoarders, too.

  18. Norma said,

    I’m listening, Sarah, and grateful for your openness. Hard as it is for us mom-types gratitude is SO much better than guilt, isn’t it.

    Thank you for sharing your heart and blessings my friend and fellow OC sojourner.


    P.S. The show Hoarders also makes me feel better about my post cancer messy house. Nice to be able to say, “Well, at least it’s not that bad.” – n

  19. Danielle said,

    I’m listening Sarah and my heart goes out to you concerning your children. Before cancer I was afraid to die- now I KNOW that is the easy part. Leaving my husband and son would be very hard. I am just now getting close to my son. When I found out I couldn’t bear to be around him because it hurt so bad to think I may hurt him.
    You and your husband are truely wonderful parents and the therapist is a great help I’m sure.
    I learn so much from you – although my cancer seems to be gone- we never know and I have learned so much from your posting. I know if it comes back- I can only hope to be as open as you.
    I understand what you mean about the guilt- I’m sure loved ones feel so helpless so whatever they can do is good for everyone involved.
    I continue to pray for you and think of you everyday.
    Thanks again for being so open and letting us in.

  20. Mimzi said,

    Listening and reading … with gratitude.
    I appreciate your honesty, and your ability to put it beautifully into words.

    I also used to feel guilty about many things, including those completely beyond my control. For me Buddhism has been very helpful. Here’s a quote from my spiritual teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, from one of my favorite books, Eight Steps to Happiness, in the section on the “Kindness of Others:”
    “We need others for our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Without others, we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent, self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings.”

    Wishing you peace.

    Gratefully yours,

  21. Dan said,

    I feel everything you are saying because I have been the recipient of some awesome acts of kindness throughout my treatment. I know you have a big group of friends, but if you have not done so already, I would urge you to seek out a group of cancer friends/peers. I joined a group here called Young Adult Cancer Survivors of Atlanta which is open to anyone under 50 who has ever had a cancer diagnosis. It sounds like a support group and I was hesitant to go at first and sit in a circle talking about our feelings, but that’s not what it’s like. We meet for dinner, go to restaurants and have both serious and very funny conversations about life with cancer.

    As you know, nobody REALLY understands it unless they live it. And those peers are great people to have these kinds of chats with.

  22. Ann said,

    I think Hoarders has done more to help cancer patients feel good than any drug our doctors give us.

    I hear you on the guilt. And, I confess, I’ve already told my son that mom’s cancer is going to be really helpful during college application time. He is doing his community service at the American Cancer Society at my urging to sell the story. 🙂 I’m so evil.

    We, your readers, are grateful for you, every day. Sharing your wit and your story more than makes up for any couch sitting you do.

    I’m just waiting for the day some bad-ass doctor figures out how to get you back to remission – permanently.

  23. jenn said,

    Wow. Thank you for saying all of this for me. I just told my 5 yr old son that my oc is back for the 3rd time. He gave me such a look. Just turned his eyes up to me from his bowl of mac n cheese and glared. It was like I’d walked into Tony Soprano’s dining room and told him there was a new boss in town. Poor kid. I feel awful for dragging everyone through this AGAIN! Thank you for the words. Thank you.

  24. AnnaR said,

    I completely understand you on the guilt issue. I constantly feel so bad for my husband and can’t help but feel I’ve ruined his life. And yes I know it’s silly to feel that way, and he’s in this for the long haul because it’s as simple a fact, that he just loves me, but still I feel bad. Maybe I just need to go and watch a Hoarders marathon, to remind myself to just enjoy what we DO have, and stop worrying about what we don’t have or won’t have. Great post.

  25. Leslie Sorensen-Jolink said,

    Sarah, you are considering (what you perceive to be) the negative impact of your illness on the people in your life without considering how very much you give to each one of those people (from the most casual reader of The Carcinista to your husband and children). You give us the great gift of allowing us to be part of your journey, wherever it goes, and you honor us by accepting whatever gifts we can offer. What you thereby give us, and accept from us, is part of the essence of living: trusting one another enough to be able to connect with, and touch, each other concerning what is most important. That is a monumental accomplishment; a cause for satisfaction, not guilt.

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