Guilty on my Mind

I’m guilty of a lot of things lately.  I suppose I often am, but ever since last week’s #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) tweet chat, I’m really aware of it.

It was wonderful having nearly everyone I follow online together that night discussing all the reasons for a cancer patient’s guilt, whether derserved or most likely, not.  I understood every single one and all the questions associated with guilt, have been following me ever since.

Why do I let it get to me?

How is this my fault?

I’m sorry for causing my husband such worry.

I resent the time needed for doctor appointments.  

How dare I feel sorry myself when others have it so much worse…and not just in our cancer world, but life in general.  

Then the other day, I flipped through a women’s magazine, the October issue, to ponder an article.  “The Breast Q & A”  Questions you still need answered about breast cancer.

Turns out I had all the answers, so maybe I wasn’t exactly the target audience for this article, but I continued on to the end to read their “risk-slashing checklist.”

And there it was, in print, no less.  Proof, it’s my fault.

Breast feed, in one study, women at high genetic risk, (such as myself) were 45 percent less likely to develop breast cancer if they breast fed for more than a year.

My children are adopted, so not only did I not give birth at a fairly young age, or ever.  I screwed up even more by never breast feeding.

I knew it.  I started to count the ways my cancer was my fault.

I started menstruating in 6th grade.  My smarter friends waited until 8th.

I was raised on sugary treats.  Ice cream and brownies are my poison of choice to this day, though I usually make my own baked goods to avoid all the artificial ingredients and preservatives found in supermarket brands, but the joke is on me.  Sugar has been the culprit all along.  It’s my understanding, sugar is cancer’s food of choice…and I’ve yet to give it up or dairy, for that matter.

So, there it is.  More guilt.  More ways I’ve screwed up.

I haven’t worked out all summer.  I’ve gained five pounds, maybe more.

I don’t want to blame myself for these things, but clearly I’m increasing my risk for recurrence.  I know how badly I feel now.  I can’t begin to accept the guilt I’ll feel if or when it comes back.  Like many cancer survivors, I imagine it’s still there somewhere, waiting for someday.

I remember in the weeks after diagnosis, while waiting for surgery, I’d visualize the cancer being sucked out, taken away for good.  I really believed in the power of that image.

I don’t know why I can’t do that now.  Why can’t I believe in the power of healing?  Have faith in good news?  Maybe it’s because I know it’s not enough. Perhaps if I tried harder, worked at it more —

Ate better  

Ran my ass off

Said goodbye to sugar, alcohol and my beloved ice cream

Would it be reminiscent of my decision to have a bilateral mastectomy instead of lumpectomy?  I slept better then believing I’d done all I could.  I fought with all I had…Then.

Now, more than two years later I’ve gotten sloppy, complacent.  I’m falling back into old, unhealthy habits and no one would be to blame for a recurrence but myself.  Regardless of statistics.

So, that’s where guilt comes in and stays in.

Is ice cream really worth it?  I don’t know the answer, but for my own peace of mind, I need to find some middle ground.  I can’t change the age I first got my period, or the fact that I never gave birth or breast fed, but I’ve got to change what I can.  This burden of guilt is getting very heavy.

My plan is to skip dessert and go to the gym tomorrow.  I wish I had a buddy to go along.  Someone else running on a treadmill, not to lose weight, but to lose the cancer cells that may be closing in on us.  Believing we left them in the dust would go a long way in unloading this guilt.

12 thoughts on “Guilty on my Mind

  1. Aw, Stacey. ((hugs)) I totally hear ya and wish I could say I didn't totally get all of this, but yes. I didn't breast feed, got my period early and grew up eating Little Debbie Snack Cakes. You know that there are millions of others who do that and don't get cancer, right? I just try to strive for balance now. That's a struggle. Ridiculous, huh? Struggle for balance?? Katie


  2. There may come a day when the research is all in and the articles in women's magazines can actually be helpful. I know I miss a great many things, but I don't believe I missed the announcement that today was that day.From here on the sidelines it seems that the best thing to do with that October issue is not to read it. So plan, skip, go, run if you must but not because you read it in a magazine. You haven't a thing to feel guilty about.


  3. Stacey,That tweetchat had me thinking in the opposite way: I released my guilt. I think a lot in the media lays the foundation for guilt, such as if we exercise, we reduce cancer risk, if we eat certain veggies, we reduce it, and yeah I was fixated on that breast feeding one (as you know, my daughter is also adopted).But here's the thing: I no longer buy into the notion that the not-so-good things we do cause cancer. For example, I come from a long line of relatives who lived into their 90s, never sick a day in their lives — and my grandpa even worked with asbestos.My relatives ate all the things that our society frowns upon: red mean, nothing organic, sweets.Here I am, with a great diet, a runner, no genetic history of BRCA and no gene mutation, never smoked or did drugs, hardly drank — and I got cancer anyway.Cancer taught me that no one really knows what causes it, and so I lightened up: on everything. I still try to eat right and exercise (I can no longer run, but I can walk and swim), but the truth is there is no reason for any of us to feel guilt.


  4. Oh honey, we could drive ourselves crazy so easily! Like many of us, I became obsessed with what I ate, didn't eat, drank, didn't drink when I was going through treatment, and now with treatment in the dim and distant past, I too have become sloppy, but I have given up feeling guilty about it and like Beth, have lightened up. I now adopt the 80/20 rule – try to be \”good\” most of the time, but really enjoy the lattes, the chocolate and the odd glass of wine the rest of the time. Life is for enjoying after all 🙂


  5. Hi Katie, it seems we're not like the others. At least we're not struggling alone. Thanks for getting it.Hi Dave, thanks for that.Beth, you are so very right. We can't predict cancer, it just is, but it's so easy to believe we're messing up. That's it our fault somehow. My grandparents sound a like lot yours. My grandmother had chicken fat on the table! Used like butter, yet all lived very long, healthy lives. I'm still hoping for some of those genes. Thanks for your comment here. You made me feel better.Hi Marie, I think it comes in waves for me. I can go a good long while, and out of the blue, guilt sets in, but like you say, it is life and it's a whole better with lattes and chocolate and wine and ice cream and brownies and melty cheese on yummy things. Must find the balance.


  6. Boy, did this resonate with me. It's a constant struggle for me to try to strike that balance between being healthy and enjoying life, and to me, food and wine are two of life's great joys (and exercise is not, but I'm making my peace with it. The older you get, the more important it becomes). My husband said just the other day he was glad he was not a woman so he didn't have to feel guilty about having a glass of wine. He's remarkably guilt-free, like many men. P.S. LOVED your line about your \”smarter\” friends waiting until 8th grade to start menstruating! 🙂


  7. Hey Stacey,I'm sorry about the spam but I forgot to share something my family doc used to say to me that might help. We did have the diet/exercise talk more than once (and now that he's retired I'm having it with my new doc :)) but he also used to tell me \”Don't beat yourself up.\” Good advice for all of us!!!


  8. Stacey, Boy do I understand about the guilt thing. I could write a book on it, or at least a blog post! ha. I try not to look back too much. Should I have done some things differently, yes. Do I need to do better now, yes. Do I have a long way to go, yes. I'm not willing to give up the ice cream or the chocolate among other things! I agree with Katie, it's all about balance. I'm still trying to figure out my \”balancing act.\” Do the best you can. That's pretty much always been my mantra. Great post. (oh, and I got my period in 6th grade too! That's probably sharing too much!)


  9. We all beat ourselves up about things we did and didn't do and risk factors we could have side stepped. If stress of this last year doesn't bring my cancer back, then the gin & tonics and not doing something physical everyday might help it along. I so identify with \”that\” guilt. Before breast cancer and up until James died, I was the girl who did everything right. I wanted to stay healthy in order to be with James and now that he's gone, I'm just not as motivated. I'm working on it though.


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