Feelings of Survivor's Guilt and 15 Ways to Cope

by bnmcnabb

No More Guilt

Background: WhatNext.com is an online support network developed in partnership with the American Cancer Society that helps help cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers gain firsthand insight into living with cancer and connect with others facing a similar diagnosis. Members of WhatNext.com are sometimes referred to as "WhatNexters."

Many WhatNexters have posted questions about survivor's guilt and wondered if others have struggled with the same feelings after treatment. Survivor's guilt is common and there are ways that WhatNexters have learned to cope. Here are a few examples from WhatNexters' perspectives. 

Feelings of Survivor's Guilt

Survivor's guilt can come in multiple forms and is a normal feeling for cancer survivors; it can feel like grief, depression, and sadness. Below are some specific feelings of guilt Whatnexters have had. For more information on moving on after cancer treatment visit the American Cancer Society's guide on Survivorship.

Cancer And Guilt

via blogspot.com

"My neighbor was diagnosed with cancer a few months before me. Last week I learned from another neighbor that hospice is now involved, as her cancer is terminal. I feel horribly for her and her family. I am struggling with survivor's guilt. I feel funny when I see her husband or children, as if they may resent me for still being alive while she is dying." - Valentinegirl

"I have a bad case of survivor's guilt. I have friends and their family who have died recently from cancer and here I am in remission now. I feel a young mother of two is more worthy of healing. I feel low self-esteem and very little self-worth." - nitronick

"My friend's husband passed away a few months after I was declared cancer-free. We had exchanged emails throughout because we were going through treatment at the same time. I was at work when I read about his death. I felt like I was suffocating. I immediately texted a friend, another survivor, who worked in the same complex, and begged her to take a walk with me because I needed to understand why we were survivors while other young people weren't as fortunate." - IKickedIt

"No matter the circumstances, it is heart-breaking to watch or know of someone who is dying from a disease that you've also experienced." - HearMeRoar

15 Ways to Cope With Survivor's Guilt

1. Try not to compare cancer journeys. 

Cant Compare Cancer Joureys

via plus.google.com

"Each cancer is different and each patient reacts differently to cancer and treatment. I try to avoid any comparison as it will not help anyone. Try to feel thankful you are still here, strong and getting even stronger to fight this stupid cancer for yourself, your family, and for them." - glam

2. Let go and realize that you can't control the outcome of cancer.

Cannot Control Cancer Let Go

via tadadating.com

"I am sad for those that don't make it, but I had no control over them. I did have a strange thing happen a year or so ago. A reporter was doing a story on me, and she delayed the story for months from being put in the paper. I asked what was the hold up one time, and she came clean. She said that her dad had died a year earlier. She broke down and cried after telling me this and apologized for being upset. I felt bad that she felt this way, but again, it was not in my control so I didn't feel guilt." - GregP_WN

3. Remember that it is not your fault if someone gets cancer. 

Who To Blame For Cancer

via cognitivetherapyonline.com

"I had a feeling of survivor's guilt when a colleague at work was battling testicular cancer just a couple of months after I finished my treatments. My therapist taught me that guilt is a normal (albeit unpleasant) feeling when you've wronged or injured someone. However, if you're blameless, feelings of guilt can be harmful that can be treated. I realized that I was not to blame for his cancer and witnessing him go through his illness right on the heels of mine was just hard for me. I feel very sorry but not guilty anymore." - Pablo

4. Know that they are probably not mad at you.

Guilt Cancer

via myjewishlearning.com

"Instead of guilt I felt that family was rooting for me to do well even if they were also effected by cancer. It's what they were aiming for also. There was nothing my father or I could do about his cancer or prognosis, but we are still thrilled to see people surviving their illness and going on with their lives, because it gives hope to millions of people that they can do it too. Including us." - Freebird

5. Despite guilt, lend them or their family a helping hand. 

Help Someone With Cancer

via giveforward.com

"When you see others suffering from cancer and you feel guilty, talk with them, ask how you can help, you more than many people know how important help with things like children, trips to the supermarket, preparing food, etc. is in a cancer patient's life. Maybe you can help than more than you imagine." - glam

6. Use your empathy to support them.

Survivor To Survivor

via cancercenter.com

"When looking at others I think, what help would I appreciate? And then do that for my neighbor. Maybe bring in meals that can be warmed up. Are there things you can do to give them relief? Reach out. I firmly believe that what you give....you will get." - Marci

7. Talk to them about it if you have an open relationship. 

Talking About Cancer

via sheknows.com

"My friend (who passed) and I had directly talked about this once. It was a good conversation; she said. "I so hope you never end up here." She did EVERYTHING the docs told her to do... and then some and yet, she ended up with metastatic disease. We talked about her feelings about the disease, my feelings, her treatment, my treatment. When she died, I went through a tough period of tremendous fear and sadness. I remind myself that my friend was special and continues to hold a place in my heart." - leepenn

8. Seek counseling if you need extra help coping.

Cancer Help

via decodingspirituality.com

"I do have survivor's guilt like many others. I see a therapist and I am attending a summit for young adult cancer survivors which has a session about survivor's guilt." - Nancebeth

9. Become an advocate.

We Will Not Let Cancer Win

via whatnext.com

"I believe that I am supposed to teach others the lessons I learned while I was on my cancer journey and I do believe I have done that and will continue to do this for the rest of my life. I am a huge advocate now for preventative screenings. I know through my advocacy I have already not only heightened awareness, but have potentially saved a few people from having to go through what I went through. So many people have thanked me for sharing my journey with them. I've started to coach other cancer patients as well. This helps me a lot." - IKickedIt

10. Allow their journey to inspire you. 

Cancer Journey Inspiration

via huffingtonpost.com

"I have felt guilt. I won't go into the whole story but I had someone walk me through what to expect when I was going through treatment. Now I am in remission and she is not doing very well. I felt bad and I was also kind of scared to visit her. I can't explain why and I felt horrible about it. I finally kicked myself in the butt and stopped being afraid or feeling guilty. This person does not feel anything but happy for me so I need to step it up and support her in every way I can. I have visited her a few times and we laughed a lot. It was good for both of us. I give her little comfort gifts. I do not feel guilty anymore. Just fortunate that she came into my life and helped me when I was in need. Now I need to pay it forward. That is what she would like to see happen I am sure." - Jodi

11. Make guilt a motivator to do something positive.

Get Rid Of Cancer

via blog.mysanantonio.com

"With survivor's guilt you may be focused on 'Why do I have more time and not them?' My advice would be: Stop yourself. Interrupt that habit of thinking and replace that with something positive-- in thought, feeling, and action. Why NOT you? Maybe there's something you still have to do here before you leave. Focus on what you can do with your gift of time. Think of all the opportunity you have by being alive, that you could make a difference in the lives of people who are living with disease. Guilt is a waste of time, and serves the self only. It doesn't do any good for the other person with cancer. Maybe we can all feel guilty about using our precious time to feel guilty. Make guilt the fertilizer that helps you grow your experience into something positive." - Freebird

12. Honor others by living the best life you can. 

Motivation Cancer

via addicted2success.com

"I felt guilty when a good friend's son-in-law passed away. But I baked cookies and took them to my friend's house. She had her grandsons there for a visit. I told her how I felt. She was so happy to see me and to see me doing well that I had to give up the guilt after that visit. No one knows when our time will come. If I had died it would not mean that he would have lived. I now believe that I can best honor those who do not survive by living the best life I can and trying my best to help others." - liznparadise

13. Think of the people you love and continue to fight for them. 

Hmr Family

via whatnext.com/pinboard

"When I feel fear or guilt my thoughts first go to my boys. I just want to live long enough to get them solidly into adulthood (of course I'd like to see my grandchildren etc.). My heart aches every time I think of what it might be like for my family to lose a person they love." - HearMeRoar

14. Find gratitude amidst the sadness. 

Cancer Gratitutde

via charmedyoga.com

"Survivor's guilt happens to a lot of people when they survive and others don't. I don't know if anyone really has an answer for it. I try to be thankful for what I have and, while I feel deep sympathy for those whose burdens are greater, I try not to let it destroy my own happiness." - Harry

15. Remember that you are not alone. 

Survivor Ribbon

via home.comcast.net

"No one knows why some get longer and others do not and I don't think we are meant to know why. Admittedly it's a horrible feeling. No matter how hard we try to figure it out and reason, we won't. It is comforting to know I am certainly not alone." - IKickedIt

If you've been diagnosed with cancer, take a minute to join the WhatNext community and find others near you who have been in your shoes. There’s no better way to get first-hand insights into living with cancer than by connecting with others who are currently doing just that.

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