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The severity of your breast cancer does not mean you are any more or less of a survivor

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

I recently took part in an American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer retreat for those who have been diagnosed with the cancer. While it was emotional to stand for a group photo with women who were diagnosed with breast cancer one year ago, it was shocking to hear that some felt survivors' guilt. That meant that this was the first such community-building event some of the women had attended because of the guilt they feel.

They say they feel guilty that they did not have to go through what other women did. Some women experience multiple rounds of chemo, surgery and radiation, like I did, while others do different combinations of those treatments. Still others may only need to do surgery to remove their cancer. Regardless, any treatment is still treatment. Imagine what someone experiences when they are told they have a life-threatening disease. That knowledge can stun someone, invoking fear, anxiety and a whole plethora of emotions. As cancer survivors, we all experience that.

What makes me sad is that some women may miss out on the opportunities to attend a retreat like I did, because their guilt holds them back. I have gained so much by being around other women who have been affected by cancer — some who are still in active treatment and some who are in remission. The love and support I feel when within those communities is immeasurable. I wish that everyone could feel that.

For those who believe that because they only did surgery or only did radiation, that their pain is not as valid as others': I see you. You suffered; we all suffered. The emotions you felt are and were just as valid as anyone else's.

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