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Survivor’s Guilt and 9/11

I’m probably a little late with this post. September 11th has come and gone once again. Still, we need to keep remembering…

Did you watch the media coverage? Were you drawn in? Or did you avoid it altogether?

My hubby said, “Why do you want to watch this stuff? I’m not sure I want to. I’m not sure I can.”

Many people probably felt that way, but I found myself once again drawn to the coverage.

There are certain historical events that take place in every person’s lifetime that leave a permanent imprint on them. I know I’m dating myself here a bit, but ones that immediately come to mind for me are the three assassinations; President Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Bobby Kennedy’s. Their deaths were so violent and so unexpected; they literally left the entire nation stunned each time it heard the news. When President Kennedy was killed the whole country stopped in its tracks for days. I was only 8 years old, but I’ll never forget the continuous television coverage and the eerily somber mood that was everywhere.

September 11th was another one of “those days;” a day when most people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news, or at least I do. I was home after getting my youngest off to school. I watched the second plane hit the second tower as it happened. I literally watched the horror unfold. Saying it was unbelievable to watch sounds far too trite, but that’s what it was, unbelievable.

This past weekend when I watched the September 11th coverage, I wondered how people who were there that day as the horror unfolded felt. I wondered how people who lost loved ones felt when their loved ones didn’t come home that day. I wondered how exhausted those fire fighters felt at the end of that day and how many nights passed before they were able to sleep again. I wondered how people who made it out of those buildings alive felt when they saw others jumping from windows from the corners of their eyes. I wondered how all of the survivors of that entire horrendous day felt when the day mercifully ended.

I also wondered how they feel today.

Do they suffer from survivor’s guilt? Or do they choose to only focus on the gratitude?

Somehow I doubt it. I imagine every person that did survive that day has wondered more than a few times, why me? Why did I survive?

Cancer patients suffer from survivor’s guilt too.

I think it’s one of the reasons I so often hesitate to call myself a cancer survivor.

Why should I get to call myself a survivor when others cannot?

Why am I still here when others are not?

Why are some living with stage IV and I am not?

Why them?

Why not me?

That’s what survivor’s guilt is about; asking the questions that have no answers.

I am by no means comparing my cancer survival to the horror of what people lived through on September 11th.  I would never do that.

I’m simply asking what all survivors ask, why not me?

In a way we became a whole country of survivors that day in September. We all knew it could have happened in our city or town. We all knew it could have been us.

Cancer survivors know the same thing. It could have been us. It still could be.

As survivors of 9/11, cancer, a natural disaster, or any profound event, we need to do the same thing.

We need to remember.

Is there an event that had a profound impact on you?

Did you watch the 9/11 media coverage?

Do you ever feel survivor’s guilt?

Reflecting pool at 9/11 memorial in NYC

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

At Garden of Reflection Memorial in PA


Thursday 13th of October 2011

Wow, what a comfort to find that there are people who feel as I do about survivors guilt. I do not have cancer and pray I never will, but oh how it has touched my life.....I have lost a mother and an aunt within 3 years of each other because of cancer. Life seems to be so fragile, yet we sometimes treat it as if it were made of steel. I know that I find ways to feel sorry for myself and get self absorbed, even when I try my hardest not to take anything for granted.I think this is why we all feel some sort of survivors guilt, even if tragedy has not fallen directly in our laps. We know that life is precious, yet the days of snarled traffic, crappy weather and endless bills can make anyone look up and say "why me". Sept. 11 had the most profound effect on me. I knew no one personally involved, I never had been to NYC., and I was a wife and mother who was supposedly safe and secure. That was a horrific event! I didn't know it at the time, but because of those did not give up, did not give in and found strength to carry on, they inspired me to do something to make sure that we as a people, a nation and hopefully a world will never have to endure the evil that some wish to breed and spread. I am now in my last year of college at the wonderful age of 43 and will receive my BA in Homeland Security this coming May. If I can play any role ( even just pushing papers )in preventing another 9-11, then I will feel as though nothing has been in vain. I hope one day my degree will be obsolete and just a memory, but until that day.......I hope to make a difference. Wendy


Thursday 13th of October 2011

Wendy, Thank you so much for reading my blog post on survivor's guilt and for taking time to comment. I'm sorry you have lost so many in your family to cancer. 9/11 was such a horrible event and really exposed our country as being vulnerable to this kind of attack. I think we somehow felt we were immune to such violence. Like you said, life is fragile isn't it? Good for you for going after your degree in homeland security. That is certainly commendable! Good luck finishing it up. You are making a difference indeed.

Claude Bussieres

Wednesday 21st of September 2011

I have been blessed and have known very few people who have been struck with cancer - and I pray that I will not be affected in the future either. chances are slim, I suppose. But the reason I have found this page is because of the media coverage surrounding the 10th year mark of the WTC attacks. I have been so truly affected from remembering that day that I'm having difficulty putting the past behind me. I did not know anybody directly in NYC or closely related to the WTC, but having re-visited those memories has really affected me. I'm almost compelled to say more so now than in 2001. I'm from montreal. I just can't get the tragic story out of my mind. I have a great deal of sorrow from just remembering. It's as if the reality had not struck me until this year. Maybe because I am a father now, and I was not 10 years ago. In the space of about an hour, over 2,700 lives were extinguished. Thousands of life insurance policies kicked in. These individuals weren't just airline passengers and office workers. These people were loved ones/ brothers/ sisters/ mommies/ daddies/ bedtime story readers/ aunts/ uncles/ miracles of life. To be affected by an inexplicable disease such as cancer is one thing, and I'm not down playing that, but- How can any living human being have so much hatred to plan such violence against fellow human beings? Every human life is a miracle. Every moment of life should be enjoyed. some should be cherished. I do not take that for granted.

May God bless each one of you and your loved ones. I truly hope we can advance to find a cure soon.


Thursday 22nd of September 2011

Claude, Thank you for finding my page and commenting. I'm sorry you are having such difficulty putting that day behind you. I think the 10 year anniversary is a major milestone, so perhaps that has something to do with it; it's hard to fathom it's been that long, but yet it seems like yesterday. Or perhaps, as you mentioned, it's because you're a father now. It is umimaginable to think such hatred exists to do such a thing isn't it? The events of that day affected the whole world and all we can do now is not forget. Thanks again for your thoughts.

Kay Ashworth

Wednesday 21st of September 2011

Hi Nancy, What was actually happening on 9/11 and its aftermath is a blur to me. My husband was in the process of dying from colon cancer that week. My strongest reaction was "please don't let him die today, please let him have his own death date." I don't know why that was so important to me, perhaps I didn't want his death to get lost. He died on 9/16/01.

I was talking about this with our daughter last week. As selfish as I know it is, we both agreed that it is difficult to focus on a national tragedy when your own life is being torn apart.

So every year we do a nodding acknowledgement of the overwhelming tragedy of 9/11 and then honor our own fallen hero. He fought cancer for seven years with such grace and dignity he is still my inspiration.


Wednesday 21st of September 2011

Kay, It's completely understandable you did not want your husband's death to "get lost." This marks ten years for you on a very personal level then. I'm sorry. I like the way you speak of him as your own fallen hero and inspiration. That's lovely. Thanks for sharing this very personal comment, Kay.

Garden Lady

Saturday 17th of September 2011

I watched making of the memorial in New York, could not watch anything that had to do with the attack, still too hard and emotional. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was one of those moments of time you will never forget (I also remember the day Kennedy was shot, exactly where I was and what I was doing)As far as survivor guilt, I don't really feel that, maybe because I am not far enough removed from it, not sure. Maybe when I start going in for checkups every year versus every three months, looking forward to that day


Saturday 17th of September 2011

Garden Lady, It is hard to watch clips of the actual attack isn't it? So heart wrenching to think about all those people lost... I'm looking forward to the day I only need to go for annual check ups too. I wonder if you start to worry less then. Good luck with your upcoming appointments and thanks for commenting.


Friday 16th of September 2011

Nancy - Thank you for writing this post. I think about survivor guilt a lot. Why did I find out young that I had the gene mutation and then get such effective screening that my cancer was caught at Stage 1? Why am I so lucky?

What I try to remember is that each of us have a different path and I try to make the best of the one I am on. But, it's so important to celebrate the LIVES of the people we have lost, whether in 9/11 or through this disease. Thank you for helping me keep this in mind. Big hugs, Terri


Saturday 17th of September 2011

Terri, I'm not sure I would call having the gene and getting cancer at such a young age being lucky, but I know what you mean. You're right, each person follows their own path the best way they can. And yes, remembering and celebrating lives lost to cancer or 9/11 is essential and something to not just do on one particular day. Thanks for your comments, Terri.

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