Thursday, August 11, 2016

Survivor Guilt


Wow, I haven't written in what....almost 2 years?! Whoops! Life got crazy and then I guess I kind of tried to move on from this chapter of my life. I think I've subconsciously tried to break away from cancer, compartmentalize it maybe. But I've been learning that I'll never really "move on" from the cancer chapter. I'm kind of stuck with it forever. Between my bi-annual check-ups and all the friends I have that are constantly in and out of treatment, cancer is in my life to stay.

Luckily, MY bill of health is clean as a whistle. However, I have SO many friends now that are not as lucky as me. This has been a huge struggle for me this whole year. It's something that the cancer community calls "survivor guilt". It seems so unfair that I am healthy, strong, happy, running hundreds of miles and climbing all the mountains while my friends continue on through treatment, get told they have only months to live, struggle through two years of weekly treatment.... My friend's adorable 7 year old daughter was just diagnosed with cancer on Monday...these things all SUCK so much. SO MUCH SUCK. It just isn't fair you know?

I've been reading Brene Brown's Rising Strong. She is an incredible researcher in the field of vulnerability, shame, and being your most authentic self. One of the lines from her book particularly stood out to me the other day, "We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend." We can't run from grief. Eventually it catches up and manifests itself in depression, anxiety, PTSD, stress, feelings of unworthiness, etc. This is the "rumbling" I've been working through for months. After visiting my sweet 7 year old friend in the hospital today, I sat down in my car and just wept. I cursed cancer and cried and cried. I've been learning to accept grief- and to allow myself to feel it. Because I have so many cancer friends, I lose a lot of friends every year. Those losses build up until I break down and finally let the sadness happen.

"You can't selectively numb emotion--when you numb pain, you numb happiness and joy." And so we learn eventually to accept pain. To use it, to relish in it, to come out stronger on the other side. "Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others." As I've been rumbling through my dark places this year, accepting emotional pain and sadness, I feel that I've become a much more compassionate person. And no, nothing that we experience in life is really fair. It's not fair that I'm healthy and so many other sweet people aren't.

I saw a video on the interweb today that told a really wonderful parable.
On the first day of class a professor held up a twenty dollar bill. He asked who in the class wanted it. All 200 students raised their hand of course. He then folded the bill in half twice. "Who wants this still?" he asked. Again, all 200 students raised their hands. He took the bill and crumpled it up. "Who wants it?" 200 hands in the air. He threw the bill on the ground, stomped on it, rubbed dirt on it, and picked it up. "Who still wants this?" Of course all 200 students still raised their hands. Because no matter what happened to that twenty dollar bill, it was still worth $20. We are the same. No matter what we are dragged through, no matter what happens to us, we will always hold our value. (Motivational speaker Jay Shetty)
I loved the way that concept was demonstrated. The whole survivor's guilt and stuff I've been feeling throughout this year has worn down on my feelings of worthiness. We all get down in the dumps about ourselves for one reason or another, and this story is a beautiful reminder to me.

Why am I sharing all this?? I'm not 100% sure. I think that writing things down is the best way for me to understand and recognize what I'm feeling. It is a coping process. I am in love with vulnerability. I feel much more real and alive when I am open. I think it's a good reminder to me that everyone has deep internal struggles that they are dealing with every single day. We have to be willing to feel our own darkness so we can be compassionate and kind to others. How would we treat others if we assumed that everyone we interact with is doing the best they can?

One more quote from Brene Brown to end with today :)
When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don't go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending--to rise strong, recognize our story and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends. 

Love with your whole heart, even though there is no guarantee.

 I guess I will always be Kalina the cancer survivor, but I can still be Kalina the ultra-runner, Kalina the crazy girl that wears dresses on mountains, Kalina the chocolate eater, Kalina. Me.

PS I HAVE AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!!!! I graduated from the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program on August 4th and was just offered and accepted a full-time position with the University of Utah Hospital!!!!! EEK!


  1. Kalina, I was so happy to see this post pop up in my Feedly! I'm glad I was still subscribed to your blog. I'm glad you are doing so well. You are amazing. Keep pushing through the survivors' guilt and know that you are a blessing to so many people!

  2. So happy to read this - have been wondering how you are and what you are doing. When I see your mom in church, there isn't time to really find out how you are. You are an amazing person. It has been wonderful to see you go from a cute teenager, to a compassionate adult facing a hard future to the beautiful woman you are are now. You are a great example to a lot of people and will be to many more. Welcome to the U of U hospital, maybe you will run into Dr. Colby Hansen some day. Good luck and many prayers are still with you! xoxoxo

  3. I seriously was just thinking about your blog TODAY! I felt bad that I hadn't been reading it. So thanks for letting off the hook by letting me know you hadn't been posting. You are awesome. And don't forget, you're also Kalina the biker chick! 😉

  4. You're also Kalina, the mentor to my 7-year-old daughter, who sees what you went through and also all of those other things that you are and it gives her hope. Plus, you just make her happy with your smile. Thank you for being our friend. Love you!


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