The weeks and months after my husband passed away the guilt of “could I have done more?” kept me awake at night. When I was at the office, I’d stare at the wall wondering, “why am I being punished?”

There’s a profound numbness of guilt that follows like a shadow. Replaying our vacations when he didn’t feel well, was that cancer? The weekends where he felt too tired, and we stayed home, should we have gone to the hospital? How did I not see he was so sick?

Fast forward five years, I look back at the summer of jaundice- which I’ve titled the summer before he died because he looked like a highlighter- But you know what? I missed that too at the time, but luckily his family didn’t, and neither did mine.

So we ended up at the hospital, more times than I can count that summer.

I feel stupid because I never saw his cancer. I didn’t know he was sick. I mean, I KNEW he was sick, but the platitude “love is blind” is 100% applied here. And looking back, the guilt weighs heavy on my heart.

Watching someone succumb to cancer is difficult. Physically they begin to change, but they soon become the cancer too. My husband hated the taste of carrots, yet carrots are known for cleansing the liver. He died of liver cancer. Was the acrid taste of carrots actually cancer talking? I can think about it until I’m sick to my stomach, but living with guilt is the first step toward acceptance.

No magic wand will wave around me and remove the guilt, but what does help is time. And in my situation, research, and learning. What I should have done while he was alive was learn about his cancer. I did, just a little bit, but after he passed away, I started reading medical journals about his cancer. And through research, I learned he was one of the lucky ones.

It’s weird to say it, even though he died, he was one of the lucky ones.

His cancer is so deadly; most people don’t live with it for more than three years. He did. And when I read about the mortality rate, my guilt began to lift.

I started learning about nutrition and how foods can impact the body, and that’s when I learned about carrots and how they cleanse the liver. And then I think about how much he hated carrots, and the guilt returns. But then I remember, he was one of the lucky ones. And perhaps when we switched our diet to vegan, it actually helped kept him alive.

Guilt is tricky because you are your worst enemy. If you allow your mind to drift too far down the rabbit hole of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve you can find thousands of reasons to blame yourself. You can blame yourself for anything, including why the Patriots lost the Superbowl.** You’ll begin to shrink and waste too much energy feeling shameful and guilty and depressed. But over time, you will forgive yourself, and the crushing realization might be there was nothing that could’ve prevented this from happening.

Releasing yourself from the guilt takes time.


**Editor’s Note: Because Julia ordered Papa John’s and not her usual Marco’s Pizza is the REAL reason why the Patriot’s lost the Superbowl.


Julia lost her husband in 2013 to a rare liver cancer when she was 28 years old. In the months and years afterwards, Julia continues to use her grief into a positive lifestyle change. She has been involved in NCAA Athletics for 14 years, and has continued to document her fitness, athletic and grief journey in her heartbreaking and honest blog The Unwanted W. Julia's journey has been featured in US Lacrosse Magazine, SoulCycle, and The Guardian. She currently writes for an online fitness and nutrition journal and works as a professional fitness instructor in Navarre, FL.

To contact Julia, please visit her website or visit her Instagram for health tips at @juliasteiercoaching