It’s Never Over – Survivor’s Guilt

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By Elaine Jesmer

heartshinyIt’s never over. That’s the inescapable truth, whether we accept it or not. Once your life had been threatened from the inside, you may learn to live with your new reality and even find a way to put it on the back burner. But that brush with death will inevitably spring to the forefront of your mind, prompted by anything that makes you think “it” could be happening again.

There are examples of close calls everywhere you look: the young woman who almost died of an aneurism while she was hospitalized having a baby (a case where location probably saved her life), the guy who was “cured” of thyroid cancer 34 years ago, but never misses his yearly test. The event that shapes the futures of survivors may have happened many years ago, like summer camp. Only unlike camp, this experience is terrifying. Even when you push it to the back of your mind and think it’s over, it’s never over.

I have survivor’s guilt, and I’ve got it bad. It seems that every time I turn around, someone I know who has faced mortality and received a reprieve is back in the trenches, fighting for his or her life. Only this time, probably because there was a first time, the stricken one isn’t as young or as strong as before. The fight is harder. The likelihood of winning is smaller.

It makes me crazy that people I know aren’t as healthy as I am.

It makes me crazy that people I know aren’t as healthy as I am. I was stage 4 at diagnosis. That’s a statistical death sentence. And yet I’m long past my expiration date, and probably healthier now than ever before. With hardly any effort on my part. Without making those life changes that so many survivors initiate, when they finally get a chance to refigure their future with their health in the forefront.

This is what’s the same for all of us: we don’t know if “it” will happen again. We can’t ever be sure. We can’t store that period when we were being treated in the back of our minds and forget about it. It’s the other shoe that hangs over our lives, and we can never completely stop waiting for it to fall. Even if we think we’re fine – are we? The medical world throws around the word “cured” as though it’s real, but that’s a dangerous lie. Accepting it as truth could allow us to take our eye off the ball. There is no cure for cancer. And who can say if that artery wall will stand up to a normal life span? We can’t know with any degree of certainty. What happened to us took us to the outskirts of normal, from which there’s really no way back. Personally, that’s why I never take those great deals on subscriptions to magazines. One year is about all I’ll ever be able to be sure of.

Like many survivors, I’m impelled to “do something” about the thing that tried to take my life.

Like many survivors, I’m impelled to “do something” about the thing that tried to take my life. I distribute a monthly newsletter that focuses on chemotherapy. I do this because taking action seems to mitigate dwelling too much on the worst possible possibility. I think that’s what meant by enriching your life by having it threatened.

~ And life has never been richer!

– Elaine Jesmer, an author and marketing consultant who lives in Los Angeles, wrote a book titled ” ‘I’m Hot! . . . and I’m Bald!’: Chemotherapy for Winners.” The book is available at, and Kindle. Her website,, connects patients to chemo-related resources, and includes a monthly newsletter, “Chemotalk”.