You are being selfish

You are being selfish, I tell myself. Her death isn’t about you, it is about her. And yet my mind keeps bringing my thoughts back to comparisons – comparisons of her cancer to mine. I need mine to be different in some way, so that I can stand on the hope that mine won’t come back.
You are being selfish, I tell myself. You should be feeling deep empathy for her close friends and family. For her husband. I cannot even begin to image how horrible it is to lose the love of your life at such a young age, and yet my thoughts bring me back to me.
You are being selfish, I tell myself. I begin to count the people in my support groups, in my circles. The statistics say that approximately 30% will become metastatic and die from this disease. I cannot help but think that with each friend that I lose, it increases my odds of survival. My mind reminds me that statistics don’t apply at the individual level. They don’t translate down. And yet, I feel this overwhelming sense of guilt over thinking that her death means that my chances of survival are improved.
You are being selfish, I tell myself. These are the most horrible thoughts. With every thought of her loss, tears fall from my eyes. Are they tears for her or tears for me?
You are being selfish, I tell myself – over and over again.
Feature image license CC by Mark.
  • Becky


  • But of course you are not selfish. You are human. Your reaction and empathy are different because you really could have been in her shoes…more so than someone who hasn’t had BC. You’re not selfish because asking yourself that question indicates you aren’t selfish. And feeling your own pain (or joy) for yourself doesn’t make her death any more or less painful for her loved ones. It’s something they will live with regardless.

    This is like how I felt when my uncle passed away. I had to take care of his wife and kids and hide my own pain… But I still felt pain for myself and thought of my father and all that. As long as we don’t seek comfort from those who are in more pain than ourselves…we aren’t selfish. You taught me that a long time ago


  • No you are NOT selfish!

  • Hi Becky,

    I’m living with terminal breast cancer and would like to suggest that you stop shoulding on yourself.

    You feel what you feel and as you point out, you have a multitude of good reasons to feel the impact of your friend’s death.

    The longer you live in cancer land, the more survivor guilt you’re likely to experience…so I suggest learning to work with feelings, rather than avoiding them with shoulds and should nots.

    As an early stage breast cancer person, how about working as an valuable ally to those of us with terminal cancer? If you deal with your feelings, you’ll be able to be present with us for ours. 🙂

    To do so takes self-care and turning to others for care…but please don’t lean on us or our inner rings of support for your care.

    Here’s a wonderful article on the Ring Theory of Kvetching –

    How not to say the wrong thing
    It works in all kinds of crises — medical, legal, even existential. It’s the ‘Ring Theory’ of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.
    April 07, 2013|Susan Silk and Barry Goldman

    If you’re a member of Smart Patients, this is another resource to help you become a better ally to the dying and our grieving loved ones:

    Thanks for exploring how we can better live together in peace, love and understanding, Becky.

    I can feel your good heart, Stephanie

  • I’ve been there and felt many of the same things. I am not selfish and neither are you.We both trying to make sense of it all.

    I really like the comments by Maha Bali.

    We need another get together – I’ve been missing you!

  • Maybe you are triggered, not selfish. Maybe when you see someone like you, with a disease like yours, you can’t help but worry how much the end will be like you, too.

    Yes, her loved ones have experienced a deep loss, but you have experience a loss too, not just of a person you knew, but the loss of another little bit of your sense of safety, security. That is a deep, traumatic loss, too. It’s OK to cry for both of you.

  • I hadn’t made the connection between me and the demise of others with similar cancer/gender/age increasing my odds. Very interesting reading and a new view. But I’m fairly new to cancer and still going through treatment. (Starting radiation). We all want to survive, others death is not our fault and if it means statistically it has improved our statistical odds, then at least something good came from it. If I am in that position one day of knowing I’m not going to make it, in a weird way I can think, well at least I’ve just increased someone else’s chances. I am very sorry for the loss of your friend and anyone I don’t know who just lost someone. We all lose when that happens, but as a survivor you are using your voice to help others and that’s a good use of your blessing.

  • Hi Becky ~ I usually read your writings but not the comments. Today, I planned to write a response so I did check out the comments and YAY I see that Stephanie Sugars ~ another CW alum and a long time BC survivor ~ has said what I agree with whole heartedly in suggesting that we all stop should-ing on ourselves! I do hope that you are checking out Stephanie’s blog sphere. She is a rare soul who lives to give away to all and everyone whatever she is able to ~ coming as I do from catholic roots, I would call her a living saint although she would laugh at that!!

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