• Do any other survivors deal with guilt, and if so how?

    Asked by liznparadise on Friday, November 30, 2012

    Do any other survivors deal with guilt, and if so how?

    I just received news that a good friend's 47 year old son-in-law just lost his battle with cancer. He leaves behind a wife and 2 young sons. He was diagnosed shortly after I was, yet at this point I seem to be cancer free. My children are raised. How do I make sense of this? I feel so bad for the family.

    12 Answers from the Community

    12 answers
    • nancyjac's Avatar

      How do you make sense of not being one of about 115 people that are killed in car accidents every day or the 50,000 people per year who commit suicide? Cancer is no different. Some people will die from it while others will die from something else. It is certainly sad that your friend's son-in-law died, but it isn't your fault.

      almost 4 years ago
    • IKickedIt's Avatar
      IKickedIt (Best Answer!)

      For the first time in my life, I experienced survivor's guilt when I was in the same position as you this past summer. A childhood friend's husband lost his battle and I have been cancer-free for more than a year. It was a miserable day for me and it took me a long time until I was able to really reach out to her.

      I have been starting to believe what many say, things happen for a reason; although we may not know now or may never know why.

      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 - and who'd ever think a few years ago I'd ever talk about promoting colonoscopies and discussing bowels, etc. with my friends and even strangers?! I didn't even talk about this with my own parents or my husband!! 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 and perhaps a few lives along the way. So many people have thanked me for sharing my journey with them. I've started to coach other cancer patients as well.

      I don't deal with death too well. I tend to push it into the back of my mind because I just can't handle it. So instead, I want to do whatever is in my power to improve other people's lives. So while you can't make any sense of this man's death, no one can (can anyone explain the senseless deaths on 9/11?), but instead go forward with helping others, reaching out to others and educating others to help improve their lives.

      almost 4 years ago
    • FreeBird's Avatar

      100% of doctors lose 100% of their patients eventually, if they live long enough. I am going to die. You are going to die. Everyone is going to die. Not at the same time I hope. At some point, we're all equal in death of body. The doctor, who stitched up my leg years ago, died. There are around seven billion people in the world. About 100,000 children die each week of hunger and malnutrition. If we focus only on that sad fact, we can feel tremendously guilty just for eating breakfast and throwing out the ends of the toast. We could feel guilty for walking out of a hospital full of sick people. Think of all the people who have zero health care, who simply die of their disease without treatment. The point is, it's a big universe, and there are countless places where we could focus our minds to feel guilty. Knocking your cancer down enough to get more time to spend here is a happy occasion, and I am sure that family would be rooting for you to do well. It's what they were aiming for also. There is nothing my father or I can do about his cancer at this point in time. He is going to die, most likely, within months. We are 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. But, if it's not cancer, it's something else. An engine could fall off a jetliner and crash through your roof. My cousin died suddenly of an aneurysm, while just finishing up college. You just never know.

      We live in a culture where guilt is built-in. It seems that someone always has to be blamed for something. You did nothing wrong by beating cancer to a pulp. If I could, I would have joined in the fight and got in a few kicks myself.

      Guilt is a pattern of thought processes and emotions that you can change right now, by changing the focus of your mind. Right now, you're focused on "why do I have more time and not him." 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 that family. 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.

      almost 4 years ago
    • ticklingcancer's Avatar

      I think when you actually know the person, it hits home pretty hard. Especially when you hear they've died of "cancer". I have a friend who has terminal cancer. She was given 2 months back in October. I'm pretty close to her and even closer with her husband. She has a 10 year old daughter who is good friends with my daughter and she has an 8 year old son. I agree with Freebird when he says "Maybe there's something you still have to do here before you leave". I was thinking about this exact same thing the other night. My friend is a 4th Grade Teacher. She has done this for more than 25 years. Her faith is as strong as it can be. She has a support group unlike anything I have ever seen. The kids at school absolutely adore her. At first I would think "this isn't fair" now I think man, "what a life". God must need her much more than we do.

      almost 4 years ago
    • liznparadise's Avatar

      Intellectually I know that I should not feel guilt, if I had passed it would not mean he wouldn't have. I was raised Catholic, so it is somewhat a conditioned response, I suppose. I am extremely grateful to still be here to enjoy my grandchildren and daughters. I am just so sad to see a family so young have to suffer this. We just need to continue to fight to end this disease.

      almost 4 years ago
    • Harry's Avatar

      I was raised Catholic, too. Still am for that matter. The Book of Job was written by someone trying to deal with why bad things happen to good people.

      Survivors 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 (including the author of Job). 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.

      almost 4 years ago
    • geekling's Avatar

      Grief is more than one emotion. One gets angry over loss, one feels sad, one denies the obvious, and one usually tries to bargain with the Fates/Lord (however you believe). There is more but this guilt os simply a habit and not a good one either.

      I believe you are still in recovery mode or you would be so very grateful to be alive while also be sad at the loss of your friend. But you needn't feel guilty. It isn't like you bumped him out of a line for parachutes before jumping out of a plane. You have no control.

      Raise your head. You have survived and can be proud and you have time to figure out ways to do good work for the Earthlings which surround you. This will honor your friend who was not as lucky or as strong as you.

      Get rid of the "buts". Be alive. Be Happy. Be generous. Be sad for the loss of your friends. Be kind to his family which is left because they were loved by the friend who you love and miss. Please do not put "buts" or strings of "ands" or "in spites" between your myriad of emotions.

      We are finite creatures and unable to understand the mysteries of infinite Creation any more than a thread understands its value to a cloth. Breathe, strengthen, enjoy. Get well and get busy.


      almost 4 years ago
    • po18guy's Avatar

      No guilt, but rather, gratitude. I had the gift of life all along, but only since the cancer arrived do I appreciate simply waking up each morning. I offer thanks before my neuropathic feet hit the floor. The coffee tastes better. Even the rain seems less assaultive as I walk to the mailbox. I have never been so delighted with my life and with living, as I now have a serious reminder that it is finite. One's world view makes all the difference, too, since each of our lives has a hidden purpose that we may never know in this lifetime. As it is, every day is thanksgiving for me.

      almost 4 years ago
    • GregP_WN's Avatar

      I haven't felt the guilt, but rather great relief and feeling of "I beat it". 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, and she was mad that I had been given 3 chances to live on after beating cancer three times and her dad was not given any chance and died. She broke down and cried after telling me this and apologized for doing it.

      I felt bad that she felt this way, but agian, it was not in my control so I didn't feel guilty.

      Survivor guilt is a common thing for a lot.

      Live on and be happy your still here, it's better than the alternative, then you wouldn't be able to feel guilty or not feel guilty.

      Greg P

      almost 4 years ago
    • ChristyC's Avatar

      Oh yeah. I am an adult survivor of childhood cancer and i remember the kids who would be at the summer picnic or Christmas party and not at the next event. I have for soo long wondered why I lived and they didn't. The only way I can console myelf is telling myself that God had and still has further things for me to do. I don't know what they are, but noone can know God's plans. We just have to trust Him and follow Him.

      over 3 years ago
    • Pablo's Avatar

      I had that feeling when a colleague at work was battling testicular cancer just a couple of months after I finished my treatments. I felt guilty because I didn't want to be around him. I secretly wished he would just stay home. That really made me feel guilty. 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 a harmful neurosis 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 too hard for me. Ultimately, he didn't make it, but that's not my fault. I feel very sorry but certainly not guilty.

      about 3 years ago
    • DaveWaz's Avatar


      Thank you so much for your question about survivor's guilt. Your post inspired us to write an article on Survivor's guilt and how WhatNexters have learned to cope. Perhaps you will find it helpful.


      Thanks again,

      almost 3 years ago

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