I don’t know if dogs can get survivor’s guilt, but I’m pretty sure their owners can.
Next month, on April 22, it will be exactly one year since Toby was diagnosed with canine lymphoma. Sometimes, I can’t remember what I had for dinner the night before, but I remember that day like it was yesterday.
Three things stand out in my mind from that day. My vet telling me to get him to the oncologist that same day, because he could have 24 hours or four months, that his prognosis was pretty grim and then texting my boss and telling her I was taking the rest of the day off and I would finish work when I get back from the oncologist.
My heart, and my world, stopped.
Almost a year later Toby is still playing, snuggling, eating, running and jumping, like he has for the past 9 years. When his cancer showed back up again in January, we immediately started treating it, and knock-on-wood, have it under control. For how long? Your guess is as good as mine.
I am beyond grateful for everyday I have with him. But, there are days where I just cry. So many thoughts go through my head when this happens, including, many times, a sense of guilt.
“Why Toby? Why me? How did I get so lucky that he is still with me, but my friends’ dogs are not still with them?”
Several people I am close with have gotten dog cancer diagnosises since Toby was diagnosed. One was just a month after Toby’s, and it was a dog who I absolutely adored. Another, a chihuahua, had the exact same lymphoma diagnosis, as did our doggie pal, Sugar from Golden Woofs, who passed away a week ago. When it comes to other people I can usually hold it together well. But, these three especially, for some reason, I couldn’t. It think it was not only because two of them were lymphoma related, but also because in each case I had a special connection with their owners.
If you are like the therapist I was seeing, you will think this feeling of guilty is crazy. (You’d also likely tell me, “just because your dog has cancer, life has to go on,” and that “you can’t base things on your pets,” but that’s whole other blog post.)
And, maybe, I am crazy for feeling this way. But, it’s how I feel. And, then I feel bad for feeling bad about the fact I feel bad in the first place.
Maybe I feel this way, because I’ve grown up always waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” If something good is happening, something bad must be right around the corner, because it’s got to balance out. Or maybe it’s because I just don’t think good things can happen to me – my happiness never lasts. I don’t know, but I know that when I start to feel the tears well up in my eyes, I grab Toby and just hug him as tight as I can.
I tell him how proud I am of him for fighting this terrible cancer and promise him I will keep doing as much as I can to help him fight it for as long as his quality of life is good.
And, then I think, “how can I be upset, or complain how much it sucks, that Toby has cancer? After all, he is still sitting in my arms.”
And then, the guilt comes flooding back.