Survivor's guilt hits a lot of people, not just those of us with a cancer diagnosis. Why them and why not me is a common question. It's not your fault. Please remember that. A lot of survival has to do with things like type of cancer, whether it's metastasized, type of treatment, etc. That's a whole lot of variables. And there is nothing to say that something else won't get us, either. Your survival does not take a "spot" away from someone else. If you are still having a hard time, you may want to find someone to discuss it with, whether it's a pastor (if you belong to a church or other religious organization) or a mental health professional. I'm sure your oncologist could refer you to someone who specializes in working w/cancer patients and survivors. Wishing you peace.
Colorectal (Colon) Cancer Questions
coping with losing people you know to cancer
Asked by dannerca on Thursday, January 3, 2013
coping with losing people you know to cancer
As I move on, a year and a half cancer free, I try to forget about my experience, but it comes back and smacks me in the face every time a friend passes away from cancer. Another angel was taken yesterday, a co worker of my husband, his wife passed away from brain cancer. This makes 4 people I know that have passed in this year and a half. How does one cope?? I find myself crying alot and asking why I made it?? Any suggestions? The first 3 people were my co workers, all diagnosed with cancer about the time I was, give or take a few months, all 3 passed away. I cant help but wonder why I'm still here.
7 Answers from the Community
These feelings are completely normal. You are asking questions many have asked before you.
I think that surviving cancer makes us more aware of those who don't. We pay special attention when the obituary says "cancer." However, cancer survival is one area where we can be sure that our success did not come at the expense of anyone else. There isn't an accountant somewhere saying "only X% may live and if one lives these others must die."
I can echo BuckeyeShelby's recommendation for a spiritual adviser and/or prayer if appropriate for you. Religions have been helping people cope for a very long time. If it is not appropriate, then you could try a mental health professional or simply talking it over with a trusted friend.
Dannerca, BuckeyeShelby is correct, that survivors guilt hits many people. As an oncology nurse I see it often in my patients however, I also work in end of life care and dancing so close to the fire, the view is not the same and I see those who have left as the lucky ones. They have earned that right of rebirth. I think it all depends on how you perceive that crucial step in life. For those who leave in their final days, they embrace and welcome that new journey. It is a road we cannot travel at this time but one we too will come to embrace when our will to live becomes a will to leave. Until then we cope by accepting that what separates the two worlds is just geography. We open our hearts so that they can find their way back in. We accept a concept that no relationship need be validated by sight or sound. The ones we cherish we feel with our heart. Best of luck to you, Carm.
About 6 months after I had finished my treatments and was declared "cancer-free" by my doctors, a friend's husband lost his battle with kidney cancer. I had never met this man, but through Facebook, I had reconnected with this childhood friend and we kept in touch, providing each other with long-distance support and encouragement. So here I was sitting at my new job, celebrating the "new" me and I read of his death. I immediately ran out of the office in tears, texting a friend, also a cancer-survivor, desperately needing to cry on her shoulder and ask her if she had ever felt the way I did.
I had always heard of survivor's guilt, but had never experienced it before. It was awful.
We can question, but we will never know why. For whatever reason, we are not meant to know why. It was so painful to lose my sister-in-law to ovarian cancer, leaving an 8-year old. For years, we questioned why. We still don't know, but my brother-in-law has since married and lovely woman and they now have a new child who is the pride of my now 17-year old nephew. My husband misses his sister terribly, but believes that the reason may have something to do with this new child. Perhaps he will discover a cure for cancer. We may never know why, but have accepted that there must be a reason that we are just not meant to understand today.
I guess I'm just an optimist, because I believe I was meant to go through what I did to save the lives of others and help others through adversity. I am now a huge advocate for preventative screenings, whereas prior to my diagnosis, I wouldn't even consider having any tests done, much less talk to my friends, family and even total strangers about it. I've shared my experiences and I know I have saved lives by motivating others to be proactive.
So while I mourn the loss of too many who lose the battle, I celebrate and rejoice with those who win and hold the hands of those who are fighting. I'm one who believes that if I hold the door for the person behind me, they will hold the door for the person behind them. So, I hope that my actions, through the ripple/domino effect, will save lives, increase awareness, change attitudes and help us all be better caregivers. That's the only way I know how to deal with the survivor's guilt.
I have been cancer free for about 2 years (as far as I know). One of my co-workers passed away from cancer yesterday also. He was at work the week prior to his death. The last time I saw him was at our office Christmas party and he looked okay. It makes me feel sad and wonder about getting a re-occurrence and how I would cope. The morning before I found out about my co-worker's death, I had a dream about trying to get to 3 funerals but prevented from going to the first two but allowed to go to the last one and wondered why. I felt that the first one was my own and that I had cheated death. The second one was my husband's who recently survived a heart attack of the widow-maker artery. I was wondering about the third one thinking someone I knew may have died or that maybe I would. I felt relieved when I woke up and saw that my husband was still breathing. I felt sad going to work that morning thinking about how I was starting to take for granted still being alive and not being grateful for what I have. Then, later that morning, I found out my co-worker had died about the same time or shortly after my dream. I put my faith in God and believe that my husband and I still have a purpose for still being here. I am thinking more and more about retiring and spending more time with my husband and serving others more. I will be eligible to retire in about 2 years. My prayers are with you that you find your purpose and peace of mind.
Before my cancer diagnosis I lost my Grandpa and an uncle, both to cancer. After my own diagnosis I lost my neighbor, a very close friend, two classmates and now my Mom. My Mom and I were diagnosed just weeks a part and her death was the hardest, even though we knew that day would come. It is tough each and every time and along with that all the ones getting diagnosed since my Mom, a list that includes my sister-in-law, it can and does become so overwhelming.
I do allow myself time to grieve and maybe even feel a little sorry for myself, but I only allow it for a few minutes or at best a couple hours. Then I try to find something happy and joyful even if it's just looking at and smelling a pretty flower or watching a tiny bird flit from one tree to another. Sometimes I need more and I take a hike, and just try to be grateful for my own life and know that because I am the one still here I must do something besides sit and feel bad all the time. I volunteer with Relay for Life, and also in my Church. I try to be a "light" to those around me. I talk of my loved ones that no longer I are able to stand beside me. I can't bring them back nor would I want to bring them back into the suffering that they felt, but I can help their memories to live on and the good they shared with me and so many others.
After over 3 years of treatment for state IV breast cancer I also wonder why am I still here so I decided to do something about it. I also have lost 4 friends to cancer in these years so I decided to spread happiness where ever I can. Here is what I did yesterday. I have retired but when I worked I went to the post office every day and there is a panhandler there singing almost every morning. I have never given him money but some days when I came out would sign a song just to me. Yesterday I was filling in at work and there he was at the post office performing. I decided to give him $20.00 which I did. I also told him that even though he did not know it he had seen me through 2 rounds of chemo and every morning no matter how I felt he was a bright spot in my morning. He teared up and gave me a hugs, I felt so good, He made my day again.