Quality CareFind out why Mayo Clinic is the right place for your health care. Make an appointment.
Meet the StaffFind a directory of doctors and departments at all Mayo Clinic campuses. Visit now.
Research and Clinical TrialsSee how Mayo Clinic research and clinical trials advance the science of medicine and improve patient care. Explore now.
Visit Our SchoolsEducators at Mayo Clinic train tomorrow’s leaders to deliver compassionate, high-value, safe patient care. Choose a degree.
Professional ServicesExplore Mayo Clinic’s many resources and see jobs available for medical professionals. Get updates.
Give to Mayo ClinicHelp set a new world standard in care for people everywhere. Give now.
Mayo Clinic offers appointments in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota and at Mayo Clinic Health System locations.
Subscribe to our Living With Cancer e-newsletter to stay up to date on cancer topics.
At a dinner outing recently, I sat next to a young woman who had just been declared by her doctors to be in remission from her lymphoma. Over the course of the evening, we talked about many aspects of being a cancer survivor.
We joked about her hair growing back curly when it had always been straight. We talked about chemotherapy and feeling horrible. She mentioned the tension of waiting for the next time she would have tests, and the continued status of remission. When I asked her what the hardest part was about being a cancer survivor, she said survival skills.
She was talking about the aspect of survival that we rarely mention, the fact that she'd survived and was in remission while others didn't do well and hadn't survived. She said to me, "No one explains to you how to deal with the guilt of surviving."
This young woman had a strong will to live and a wonderful outlook on life. She'd done well and was celebrating her remission, but was forever changed by what she'd been through as a cancer patient and survivor. This feeling of guilt is a normal part of being human, a manner of searching for the meaning of her survival vs. another person's death. I encouraged her to explore those feelings by either talking with others or journaling. By acknowledging her thoughts and feelings in some way, I hoped to help her let go of the guilt and start enjoying and celebrating being alive.
I'm curious to know if others have had survival guilt. What's helped you?
Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.
Follow on Twitter:
Selecting "Submit" signifies that you have read and agree to our posting guidelines.
Its been 17 yrs, n every death due to cancer makes it worse for ME! I feel terrible for surviving! N i should be the happiest person! But so many surgeries n scares,never makes it easier! I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop!
For Jay Bee..Obviously those ladies who said you aren't really a cancer survivor, are just ignorant. You lived thru the trauma of diagnosis, tests,surgery and the fear of reoccurance. Shame on them. Where was the support group leader, shame on her as well.
Im an 18 month breast cancer survivor and spent the first six months after surgery and radiation mourning my best friend, whom we lost to Breast Cancer nearly 8 years ago. She suffered thru multiple reoccurances without letting others see her pain and fear. I miss her deeply and do feel guilty that my diagnosis is better starting out than hers was. We have come a long way with new meds, etc. and I'm very grateful.
Knowing that every day I wake up means God has something for me to do. My job that day is to go out and do it. Nothing more, nothing less.
yes, well put....There is the question of why did I survive and someone else didn't.... and will the cancer come back some day and take me? I recently read 1 out of 2 men will get cancer and 1 out of 3 women will get cancer. With those high odds and the lack of understanding as to why so many are getting cancer there will continue to be those who survive and those who don't. Until we start taking a hard and constant look at pesticides, pollution and now GMO's cancer will continue to occur in may of us.
Like Carolyn and Marilyn, I have a slightly different form of "guilt". I had breast cancer - stage IIb IDC. I chose to have a BMX, got clear margins and no lymph node involvement, therefore no radiation or chemo. I was invited and went to my local BCNA support group, only to be told by two of the long term ladies "you didn't have rads or chemo, so you're not a real breast cancer survivor. You don't know what it's really like." It made me feel like a complete fraud. I was only 6 weeks post surgery, so I was very emotional and vulnerable. I know now how wrong they were, but it's taken me a long time to get over the hurt and the guilty feeling. I still keep very quiet about my BC and don't go anywhere near any "support groups"
I have never felt guilty for surviving. I am sorry your poor young friend would think to feel guilty. How sad!
I lost two brothers (one to cancer) and have two sisters who've gone through cancer as well. I still don't feel guilty, but I do feel thankful.
I hope your friend comes to peace with this issue.
I experience a different type of survivor guilt. From the moment I was diagnosed I knew I would be fine: First stage, very low on the scale of aggression. I'm told that, in my case at least, there's only a 4% change of recurrence. There was no chemo, and no unpleasantness with radiation. When I hear the dreadful experiences of others, I don't like to share my own experience because it has been so easy for me. Although I know someone has to be in that 4%, I see the glass half full and don't expect to have cancer again. (But if I do, I can handle it.)
I am both a physician and a survivor of cancer( 2 years following prostate cancer surgery) . I have not experienced any guilt associated with my survival but the experience has awakened within me a desire to help others with cancer as they undertake the lonely journey of treatment. I feel that the experience of others who have experienced cancer is invaluable is helping others come to terms with the diagnosis and advising them about expected effects of treatment. It is too important to avoid direct medical advice but to provide support regardless of their treatment option decisions.
In 2007 I was had Breast cancer. That was in January. I took my treatments and was through in Sept. In November we found out that my husband had lung and brain cancer. He lived for thirteen months. I felt so guilty because I lived and he didn't. It took me months to get over his death. In 2011 I found out I had ovarian cancer. I almost died but God had other plans for me. In a way I felt that I got the ovarian cancer to make up for me living and my husband dying. I now count my blessings for every day that I am cancer free from both of my cancers.
I understand completely what she is saying!!! I was diagnosed in September, my coworker in December. Mine was stage 3C1 endometrial, hers stage 4 colon with mets to the liver. I had surgery, she still has not been able to. I was in better shape before then she was and continued to work all through chemo and radiation. She has not been as lucky and although my prayer was to be grace filled through my journey and to give everyone hope, it has been hard because I don't want them comparing us or thinking she is taking advantage of the situation when I did so well. It is very difficult to keep smiling and joking about my hair etc. when I know that she may not have the same outcome I have had. Or, for that matter, I do not know that I will not have cancer again!
I also have had feelings of guilt. I was told that More than likely I would not survive. I have had ovarian cancer Stage 3C. It has been a long journey. Why did I survice when others do not. I cannot anser that question. but sometimes when I think about my survial, I get very emotional. My anniversary date is 6/03/2013. The doctors tell me I am in remission. Most of the cancer is gone. I recently had a CT Scan. Have two new lesiions in my right Lung, and fluid around my liver, but all in all A pretty good report. Where does a person go from here? Thank you for all the helpful information.
Thank you for this post. I had not heard of survivor guilt but it is exactly what I'm dealing with. I lost my sister to liver cancer in. Oct.2013. She had been battling for 3 years and had been a huge support to me with my breast cancer diagnosis in Feb. 2013. One of our last conversations I had told her I just gone for a walk and she told me that was one of the things she missed the mist. Now every time. I go for a walk I think of her and feel guilty that I lived and she didn't.
Two women I went to school with were diagnosed with breast cancer about the same time as me. Two years later both lost their battle. I couldn't understand the emotions I was feeling then realized it was survivor's guilt. I talked through it with my daughter, but it really hit me hard. I have been cancer free for four years now, I sure wish they were with me.
Yes I do. WHY ME.
My sister, Joyce, had been diagnosed with stage 4A Ovairian cancer about 6 years ago. She had listened to her Ob-Gyn about loosing weight to stop the nausea and feelings of no energy. She finally went to my wifes Doctor whom found the cancer but the finding and 7 hours of surgery bought her 4 years. It thank Dr. Moulder for those 4 years.
In the last 2 years of her life my wife and I moved in to her home to care for her and my 94 year old mother. My wife quit her job to care for them. When the time can they passed within 18.5 hours of each other.
Joyce has given her home to me in her will but we had to sell the home and move just to be able to move on.
I know it is hard to be a survivor after this episode of out life.
I am a 15 year pancreatic cancer survivor. Until 2 years ago, I hadn't met any other pancan survivors. It was at an educational seminar at Mayo where I discovered and eventually became involved with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Through this involvement, I have since met many survivors, but also have lost too many friends. Being a survivor is a blessing and also a burden. I recently lost a very close friend to pancan - she was a 12 year survivor before the recurrence that eventually took her life. She and I used to talk about why we both survived one of the most deadly cancers when so many other did not and the survivor guilt that both of us felt. I am trying to look at my experience with pancan as a gift so that I can be an inspiration to others...many times this is very difficult, but it keeps me going.
Dear Jo r, I am so sorry that your friend's sister passed away. You shared some of the most intimate feelings together that others don't always understand. You helped each other in a way that is so beautiful I am sure that she felt your love and presence always. Think of what she would want for you now...she would want you to live on and experience all that life has to offer! Keep her memory alive in a way that honors the person she was. I am thinking of you and everyone on the blog who is writing in. Sending you my blessings and positive thoughts.
I had NHL stage 4c from neck to pelvis & bonemarrow i have been in remission for 2 years but have only finished treatment 6 months ago, my
My friends sister was diagnosed with lueakemia and we started messaging frequently about our treatment, side affects, hopes and fears I told her things I couldn't tell anyone else and we spoke about things we could only speak to each other about. I'm 39 and she was 43 last week she passed away a few days ago and I'm really struggling to deal with my feelings, she left behind 4 children and her husband and I can't sleep, can't concentrate I feel so guilty what right did I have to survive why her and lots more questions that begin with why. If anyone has any advice I would be very grateful.
It is my birthday today and 15 years ago I was sat in a hospital bed having my first chemotheraphy. The cancer came back a second time around my birthday but I survived. I was told I was a miracle patient. I am so pleased to have found this website because I realise that I have survivors guilt and would like some help with how to deal with it. I have friends who have just been diagnosed with cancer and there is little hope and friends who have died and it makes me feel awful. The only thing I thought was this morning was to live life to the full in memory of them??
I am a 7 year stage IIIc ovarian cancer survivor. Normally I handle survival well and am even able to forget what has made such an indelible mark in my life. Yet, when I get the invites from the American Cancer Society for the Relay and the survivors lap and reception, I shy away and don't go. I do feel guilty about being here when others have gone. It usually lasts for a while, then the thoughts and feelings of guilt will subside until something else comes up, which for me will be one of my biannual appointments with my gyn/onc.
Dear Anonymous, I am so sorry about your co-worker. The feelings you have a really normal, but still not easy to work through. No one prepares you for moments like this. And, you are probably caught off guard by feeling guilty about living through your cancer experience, when your co-worker did not. Remember that you have many things to offer others, and the fact that you had such a close connection with your co-worker during this time was a beautiful gift to her. Keep the fond memories alive. If you need to talk with someone about your feelings, this is very helpful. It could be a close friend or family member of a professional counselor. I wish you the very best.
In May of 2013 I was diagnosed with NHL 4B confined mostly to my lungs. I had a co-worker who was diagnosed with a Stage 4 melanoma 3 week prior to my diagnosis. We became very close, being able to talk about treatments, side affects, pain, and just be "leaning posts" for each other. After 6 cycles of treatment my PET came back "cancer free" and I moved into a maintenance plan of Rituximab infusions once every 2 months for 2 years. Just after my 1st maintenance infusion my co-worker lost her battle. This had hit me VERY hard. I have "survivors guilt" something horrible and am considering counseling to help me. I have good days but when alone and able to "get inside my own head" it hurts like there is nothing worse.
I am a liver cancer survivor who hasn't experienced survivor guilt, so I'm no expert. I just wonder whether it helps to remind yourself that you are not the cause of anyone else's cancer and that your death would not help anyone else survive.
I had ovarian cancer just over 6 years ago, I was 29.I lost my uterus,ovaries and what felt like my youth.I was instantly in menopause.I was told that the cancer did not spread and the doctor was certain she removed it.I only had to have 6 chemo treatment which lasted 8 hours every 3 weeks. Once the treatment is all done and life should get back to normal it doesn't. I've had to deal with the "why me" in so many unanswered questions. I lost my faith in God and everything I believed in. Because of the menopause it put a strain on my marriage and it's hard not having the desire to want to be with my husband. He is the only lucky thing in my life.
When I started my weight loss journey I was having a hard time - I would loss than gain. I knew a lot about food and the connection with our bodies but food had become my friend, the same friend that had a hand in my cancer. I weighed 250 pounds when I had my surgery. Being the first in my family to have cancer has not been easy. I felt like I shouldn't complain because it could have been a lot worse.When ever I tried to talk about it my feeling that is exactly what people would say do me "oh don't worry it could have been a lot worse". Well it was worse enough for me.I've had some even tell me to get over it. Its been over 6 years and I am starting to realize now that I need to talk about this so I made an appointment with a psychologist today and I will get better.I wish the best for all who are going through thi
A sense of guilt or quiet-discomfort creeped over me recently. This while I was reaching-out to and building a friendship with a new friend. I have history of Hodgkins Lymphoma x2 and CLL. My friend diagnosed this year with lymphoma. His 3rd time. Me, I became a better, and much more fun friend when I stopped focusing our friendship vs his illness.
I found out by accident that I had kidney cancer, a tumor in the right one. With in two months had all the xrays, diagnosis and surgery to remove it on January 19th 2012. I did not have chemo or radiation as they do not work for this type of cancer. I was told that I had a golf ball tumor grade 1 and 2 removed with clear margins. Essentially I am cancer free and a survivor. I am 28 years old! For me to find this and go it alone through the whole thing was bad enough, but to find out I am cancer free and others dont live it makes me feel so guilty. Why me? What do I have to give that someone better could have stayed on this planet and done? I feel so lost and alone. I wish I knew why I was spared and saved. Then 3 months later to the date a woman I cherish dearly gets breast cancer and is in chemo and radiation. I got it so easy with my surgery. She lost her hair, has 4 great kids, and me, I am just a broke college graduate trying to find my way in life. Survivors guilt sucks.
I was diagnosed with Stage 3B colon cancer (at 37 years of age) in December 2011. Mid-December I had 12 inches of my colon removed. I completed 12 rounds of chemotherapy in July 2012. A little less than a year before my diagnosis, a church acquaintence (also a young mother, 2 years younger than I, also with 2 young children) was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She fought and fought and had difficulties every step of the way. We became much closer after my diagnosis. She passed away 1 week ago. I cried on her own mother's shoulders after her death. I didn't know what to say, but the tears were partly for the loss of a friend and wonderful person, and partly because I felt guilty for even being alive, much less doing so well and in remission. Her mother hugged me tightly, said "she loved you. I love you. Please be happy." I know she meant that. And I know that is what my friend who has passed on would scream at me as loudly as possible. She would not want me to feel guilty, but to be happy and live life to the fullest. There is definitely comfort in realizing that no one else blames me, and that they truly are happy for me, but it is still difficult to know exactly how to feel and act.
I was diagnosed with colon cancer in November of 2010. At the time I was diagnosed with cancer my father was dying of brain cancer. I had surgery for my cancer mid-December of 2010. Four days after my surgery my father was admitted to the same hospital (same floor) for his cancer. Two days later he died. I was at his side at the time of his death. I have yet to get over the guilt of surviving colon cancer while my father died of brain cancer.
I am a survivor entering my 5th year in Nov. Since my diagnosis I have lost 3 people close to me to cancer.
With each death I cried and wondered, why did I survive and they are gone..All 3 were younger than I.
In the quiet time, I realized life is like that..sometimes things seem unfair. But I determined to live the best way I can in honor of those I've lost.
Survival guilt is really tough, but you must keep focus forward, not back in sadness and dismay.
I'm 48 years old, and I'm a three time cancer survivor. I lost my lower leg at age 3 to rhabdomyosarcoma, had Stage 2 breast cancer at age 35, and Stage 3C ovarian cancer 20 months later at age 37. The ovarian cancer was the worst. I had wanted children so badly. I had genetic testing done, and I don't carry the BRCA mutation, and there is no immediate family history of breast cancer. It was discovered I possibly have Li Fraumeni Syndrome. (I wasn't able to afford the difinitive tests to determine if I did have the syndrome.) But since I've had 3 primary, separate cancers, I was told it is likely. It's been 45 years, 13 years, and 11 years since my diagnoses. During my own treatments, and surgeries, I lost 2 family members, and a close friend from cancer. I don't know why I was spared. I didn't realize I was feeling survivor's guilt until recently. I was deeply depressed for a long time. It's taken me many years to come to terms with the aftermath of my ovarian cancer. The other cancers I dealt with, but the ovarian cancer knocked me to my knees. Thank God, I'm back standing again, and I'm taking things one day at a time. I'm learning more about survivor's guilt, and now I have hope to overcome this.
I am seeking some info about sereve constipation and I've just stumbled upon this blog! A good read which I thought to be of use. I will return to allow myself the opportunity to stay longer.
I'm 24 years old and I have survived grade 3 triple negative breast cancer twice. The first time I celebrated my remission, but after the second time...I haven't recovered emotionally yet. I never thought "why me? I'm too young for this." instead, through great suffering I had a life changing meaningful experience. And now that it's over I have a hard time with normal life. Before and during cancer treatment I was ambitious, graduated suma cum laude with honors and completing masters courses. I even did clinical rotations through the hospital I received treatments in. But I realize something now: I was prepared to die. Perhaps too well. I was told I had a 50-70% chance of not making it through the next two years...but here I am without sign of disease. And instead of being grateful, I feel lost. I was ready to die. And now that its over, all of my dreams seem meaningless. Most days are good but I feel guilt for being alive. I should be grateful! But instead at times I feel ashamed and without purpose. Something inside of me is morning my survival. Is this normal? I have prayed and that is what is helping me the most. That God would help me find new purpose in life. That the most meaningful time in my life isn't over and that it's okay to have dreams again, and not be afraid of what cancer can take away from me.
I'm not really a survivor because I'm stage 4 Pancretic cancer. I've had no treatments and am about to celebrate 2 yrs of life. Normally my condition would be a 3mo life span. I'm so blessed yet feel guilty.
I am a colorectal survivor in my 2nd year of remission. Lately I have been more emotional, uncertain and scared of whats next; couldn't put my finger on it. Too busy to see it.
In the past 2 weeks, 2 members of my family have passed with cancer. I had been the model nurse, caring family member, focusing on their wellness/ unwellness and supporting loved ones during the past year since they were diagnosed but now that that role is over... WHAM
I am so scared. Is this going to be me?,Is this what is going to happen regardless of all the work and energy I have put toward healing?, have I really beaten it? , maybe I don't have it beaten?. and the big one why me and not them? WHAM.
Thanks for all those postings- I never read about anyone else with cancer experiencing this feeling! I knew survivor`s guilt really badly (which led to a serious depression) after the suicide of my mom and to a lesser extent after my two bouts of a rare kind of leukaemia (luckily, I didn`t suffer much and I`m totally fine now but I wouldn`t have survived without medicine and modern hospital technology, hygiene etc.) I`m really happy and grateful to be alive and I try to help other cancer patients but it`s always hard to tell whether I do it out of a sense of gratitude, moral obligation, inner necessity or guilt. Anyway. What has helped me a lot, strangely enough, was the encounter with the son of a Holocaust survivor who had a similar, if stronger, feeling "it`s so improbable to be alive". (I`m NOT comparing surviving cancer to surviving the Holocaust because luckily I didn`t lose my faith in humanity and no one tried to kill me- it was just very good to meet someone who had similiar feelings.) As a good friend of mine said: "You don`t have to understand everything", there are things I don`t understand but it`s good to feel understood. I`m looking forward to 2012 and to life!
lol---I need to make a correction to my blog last night! I had Hodgkins lymphoma not non-hodgkins. I must have been having a chemo brain moment. Gotta laugh!
I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma stage 2A in May 2006. After 4 rounds of chemotherapy and just before starting my 20 radiation treatments my father was diagnosed with double lung cancer. He was only 66 and I was 43. We were treated by the same great doctors and even went to lunch with my mom after radiation some days. My father developed pneumonia during his second round of chemotherapy and died the following January after only 6 months. While my father lay dying in ICU a well-meaning family friend commented that it would be just like my dad to have made a deal with God-"his life for mine"! I was very close to my dad and believe that was very possible. The guilt of that is at times impossible to bear though my mother and husband have assured me that God does not make deals. I feel very blessed to be alive and healthy almost 6 years later but also wonder why did I live and others do not. I have to believe that God is not ready for me but look forward to seeing my father again one day. Until then I try to appreciate all that I do have and try to encourage others both patients and their families with my experiences. I teasingly say that I have been given a "two minute warning" and will not put off today what I might like to do tomorrow! May God bless you all and thank you for listening.
I was first diagnosed with Non Hodgkins follicular Lymphoma in 2005 and had chemotherapy first time round, it has returned 3 times and the 2nd time the chemo had a very very bad effect on me and I was lucky to be alive. I have recently had more chemo and a stem cell transplant. I have been bald and debilitated 3 times and my body has been through so many changes, but I managed to cope and be independant very well for the past 6 years. But now there is a change, yes!, I feel incredibly guilty and sad as my best friend , who had cancer at the same time, died when hers returned, My Uncle was in the next ward to me and did not survive, and I also lost 3 cousins, my brother in law and one of my clients. It has become quite overwhelming.And I was loath to go to anymore funerals. On my last treatment I was in hospital 12 weeks, and since my return home I have felt alien and detatched,and especially guilty that I am still here when they are not, but also guilty about my frame of mind when I should be ecstatic at having survived all the treatments when they did not.It has had a profound psychological effect as well as physical, the feeling of 'why I am I still here'when they were such wonderful people with families too.
I am a Uterine Cancer survivor and was caught early and no chemo was needed but must have follow ups every 3 months for the next 2 yeas At the time of my diagnosis my sister was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and required chemo and radiation plus a double masectomy. I feel so guilty that I had it so easy plus she seems angry with me because of what happened to her and I just fell awful. If I could change places with her I would do it in a heart beat. At thiss time she is done with treatments and so far doing well but her feelings towards me have changed
I am a breast cancer survival person and thank God everyday for giving my the chance to live. This second innings of mine helped me not to take life for granted but to live life each minute, each day with a purpose. It has changed my perception towards life, death, God in a strange sort of a way. I would feel anxious to hear about people who could not survive for long due to various reasons. But I would console myself by focusing on the positive aspects. If I am being given a second chance then probably God wants me to serve some purpose. I take this opportunity to educate people to go in for mammography once an year or do some self examination of their breasts once a month. It has now become easy for me to talk about my illness and how I have coped with it. I reassure patients that their anxieties, fear, worries are real and they are something which even I have gone through. But one should never give up and take this illness as a challenge. Winning or losing is not everything but the manner in which we play the game is important. It applies to our life too and it is the way I came out of my illness as a positive and a better person.
I have a friend I met after we were both diagnosed with breast cancer. She is in the same profession as I and her daughter goes to the same school as my sons. I am 3-1/2 years out and she will hit the five year mark in December. She just recently found out the cancer is in her liver. When I saw her recently she was wearing her head scarf again and walking with a cane. It devastates me. I took for granted my health and I feel ashamed that I haven't appreciated my recovery. I am horrified that she may soon die. She is one of the strongest women I know and has a beautiful little girl who will need her. I hate that anyone has to die because of this horrible disease.
My friend and I were diagnosed with ovarian cancer within 3 months of each other. She was staged at 3B, me at 3C. The circumstances surrounding our diagnoses were very different and we were treated at different facilities. She passed away 6 months ago and I am a 1.5 year survivor. I live with guilt everyday as I see her family and friends on a regular basis and I see the pain they are in. I wish I could take that away.
My Skin Cancer was discovered and removed and I was cancer free in less then 4 weeks. I can not understand why My cancer is gone so easily. Sure it was found very early, but why mine and not someone else?
I'm in the UK and have been searching the internet about loneliness after cancer and guilt as a survivor. I have had a mastectomy following Invasive Lobular Cancer. I didn't need radiation treatment or chemotherapy. I will have hormone tablet treatment for about 5 years when they find a tablet that doesn't give horrendous side effects. My problem is I feel terribly guilty as I know so many women going through chemo, with terrible results after their tests etc, etc. I can't shake the guilt I feel for not having to go through this. Why???? Why did I get such good results when my friend has to go through radiation, chemo and there are no further tablet treatments to help her?? Then I feel so lonely about all of this. I talk to friends, my family and they all think I should be happy I've got good results, which I am. They just cannot see the reason for feeling guilty or lonely? Will it ever stop?
I try to explaine this overwhelming feeling of guilt and fear to my husband and friends and they look at me and make me feel like I'm crazy,I should be all happy that I'm a surviver and not get myself down about other people. I am so glad to see on here that I'm not alone and smebody out there understands how I feel! Thank you!!
This has been a source of huge guilt for me. I lost a friend to breast cancer - we were both diagnosed at the same time, same Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma, both BRCA-2 positive AND oddly enough, both Triple Negative. She had a violent reaction to her first round of chemo and ended up with a staph infection that ultimately took her life. I made it through chemo fine. Another friend that I work on the same team with just lost his sister 2-weeks ago to her 3rd bout of breast cancer. It's hard...
That?s more than sensbile! That?s a great post!
As a kidney cancer survivor, I'm constanly remined that others found out about their cancer so late that they died.I try to live life to the fullest now. I travel the world more now because I live with the fear I may die young. I want to do everything and I try to enjoy each day.
Most of the comments here were written by women. Is survivor guilt more prevalent among women cancer survivors?
I'm searching for help for my wife who feels, "Why them and not me?"
one of my coworkers died from lymphoma, two months after i received a good post-chemo scan. at the wake, another coworker said (along these lines) "amazing that you would get something like chris had". i burst out crying and have barely stopped since - that was 3 months ago.
it seems like most with cancer identify their partner or kids as reasons for living. i don't have these things. what's the point in living? why bother if i can just get cancer or something else again? for a bucket list?
I am a 13 year ovarian cancer survivor. I thought I was the only one that had this guilt of survivorship. I often find myself asking the questions, Why did I survive and is it because I am suppose to do something on this earth? The only answers I can come up with is early detection and maybe I am suppose to support and inspire others who have gotten a cancer diagnosis. Even after 13 years, I'm trying to figure it out and cope. Maybe we are living cancer angels for others....
I too have the guilt. My mothers baby brother was diagnosed with throat cancer in nov 08. I was diagnosed with lynphoma large b cell in march of 09. My mother was diagnosed with plasma cell luekemia in june of 09. My uncle died after 10 months and my mom after 6 months. I am so far in remission. The chemotherapy damaged my body and I am no longer able to work as a nurse. I seem to be stuck with the questions of why me as a survivior and to lose so much so fast. I was very close to my uncle and he often only wanted my mom and I as we were going through same thing. The multiple grief has been hard and my faith has waned a lot. I hope there are those who can help.
Had an aunt die of colon cancer that had metastisized from the colon to brain to liver. I was diagnosed with early stage colon cancer 2 months later at the age of 51 in 2009. I had colon resection surgery done along with the ovaries and appendix taken out. I am a survivor. Since another aunt (sister to one that died) was found with a cancerous mass on her colon with chemo/radiation treatment. She is recovering. In Feb. 2010 my son was engaged. His mother-in-law had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. In the beginning of 2010 it came back in her lung, then brain, then by August it was found in her spine/lymph nodes. All along having chemo/radiation treatments. This woman endured it all with God's help while planning for her daughters wedding. She could not make it to the rehearsal dinner but did make it to the wedding although in a wheelchair for some of the reception. One month later we were attending her funeral. The emotions were very hard. It was God that got us all through. In the end, God is the determining factor of when we live and when we die. Our trust in Him helps us through our emotional roller coaster. It doesn't mean that the feelings are not there but He helps us through them. Thank you for all the comments. They are a help and comfort, too :-)
When I hear of someone who didn't survive, for me it is not only guilt, but the feeling that I'll be the next one to die. I know that this is the wrong attitude, but I guess that thinking positively is my greatest challenge--one that I work on day to day--even though I'm really bad at it.
I manage HR in a large company, and over the last 10 months, have watched 3 employees die of cancer. I am 2 yrs post-breast cancer, and it's really hard to watch others die when I didn't. I shut off the feelings and try to be professional, but it eats at me in the middle of the night. I know it can come back at any time, but I am going to my appointments and taking my meds and doing what I need to do to stay as healthy as I can. God's got a plan for me, and I just need to smile and say thanks, God. But it's hard sometimes.
I too am a survivor, and reading these comments has helped me to understand or label what it is I feel at times, when I hear of people (even people I don't know) who have not made it through. I couldn't understand it really, not that I do now either-I just don't feel so alone or irrational.
I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2006 when I was 52 and then again, with a different strain, in 2009. The initial tumor started in my neck. I remember hearing about a young lady in her 20's with a tremendous support system where thousands and thousands of people were praying for her. I couldn't understand why I was declared "No Evidence of Disease" and she died. After all, I had already birthed 5 babies and they were all nearly grown. She had been newly married and didn't have any children. In her short life, she had influenced many people. I can't remember how long the "guilt" lasted but I don't feel that way now. I now know I have a story to tell to help others, to give hope, and to let others know that cancer does not have to be a death sentence. So I wrote a book called No Evidence of Disease and I speak to groups and encourage others. I had to put the guilt aside and see my own purpose.
I am a multiple myeloma cancer survivor and have been cancer-free since June. When my physician told me the news, I was stunned. This reaction surprised me because I had imagined dancing around the office with joy. It was in that instant that I realized how blessed I was and that the fight would never be over as the next step was to take Revlimid to prolong my life. I never felt guilty; just grateful to those who died or lived in clinical trials so that someone like me who had lost her husband to prostate and colon cancer four years ago might live. I didn't want my children to suffer through their last parent gone so soon. God granted that prayer. I won't feel guilty if I live my life for others through my church and by volunteering to help others with cancer...directly or indirectly. I cry when I read or see the children who suffer with cancer. That's when I hate cancer. I believe there is a reason I am alive, and I am listening for that direction. I must live for those who didn't make it, and I must live each day I have been given for my family and others. Perhaps that is why I didn't continue the thought of a dance in waiting room when I left my physician's office. Instead, I walked with pride and a smile so that for those who were waiting for a diagnosis, test results, or chemo would have my deepest respect and empathy as I was one of them one year ago and one hour ago.
I have survived Ovarian cancer, Colon cancer and breast cancer. Believe me, early on I couldn't understand why I survived but my mother, and a dear cousin, and my dad all died from this disease. I have learned to deal with this as all my diagnoses were very early, and treatment has changed enormousely since these people that I loved died. I kept thinking about it and knew that my parents and my cousin would be happy for me, and that I lived that their spirit continues.
My mom passed away from breast cancer and I hate to admit this but it is hard for me to be around breast cancer survivors without feeling a bit resentful. Not meaning to be that way but I just feel like what makes that person so much better than my mom that they get to go on living and enjoying their life. It doesn't help that with the breast cancer walks/fundraisers it is all about the survivors and how hard they fought to survive.. so did my mom and others that don't get the recognition as if they were failures because they died from cancer. So on the other side of the coin I can understand the guilt of survivors. Best of health to you all and I hope day this awful disease will a thing of the past.
I understand the guilt of surviving. I have dealt with cancer since 1980. Im still dealing with it now. I have lung cancer this time. Im doing pretty good, but my best friends sister had cancer and she just died. Cancer is terrible. One thing I have tried to be positive. I just hope my best friend stays my best friend
I am being treated for Multiple Myeloma. I have a good prognosis, and with an upcoming stemcell transplant, I'm hoping to be a longggggggggggg term survivior. Unfortunately, my 60 yr. old brother-in-law just succumbed to a very rare Carcinoscarcoma, after fighting for 1 1/12 yrs. and undergoing a new radical surgery. It was very hard to face him, knowing I have a chance to treat mine, while we knew his was over. Faith and Family and Friends are truly wonderful!
I am "surviving" three forms of cancer , one since 1983. The other two since 1998 and 1999. I Thank God for all the time I have been left here. My family have been there a lot. My son and daughter have had to grow too fast,yet they came very well and have their own families now. I have lost a lot of family and friends to cancer. I have moments when I wonder why I did not die. My family set me straight,again. My mother and two brothers were victims of cancer and lost. Whatever reason we are surviving with cancer when others don't,may never be answered to our satisfaction,just live as long and share it with others.Surviving is living.
Good for you Carolyn, I can understand where you are coming from! My husband died very suddenly of lung cancer 2 1/2 years ago. Many people almost said that he deserved to die because he was a smoker. No mention about what a good person he was or how much he helped others, was a wonderful husband and father. As a family trying to come to grips with our grief we have found a little bit of comfort in watching "thank you for smoking". Wish you and all other cancer survivors good health in the future and don't waste energy on guilt - life is too precious.
I am a pancreatic cancer survivor. The statistics have gone from 5% to 6% survival rate. My mom came for 3 weeks after my whipple operation to help me out. It was great having her help. Then, 2 years later, she had colon cancer. She survived for a year taking having surgery, chemo, and then had some radiation, She died last year. I still ask why did my mom have to have cancer and die. I was the one who almost died before the doctors figured out what was wrong with me. The only way I can cope with having had pancreatic cancer is to help spread the word about it, I am involved with non-profit organizations with fund raising and telling our government, thank them for all they have helped with cancer, but please look into some of the research money for pancreatic cancer. Myself and other women, who are still raising children are dieing or getting pancreatic cancer. It is no longer a disease for the elderly.
I can understand the feelings of guilt very well. I have been dealing with NHL for 18 yrs now. After numerous surgical removals, radiation, and two stem cell transplants, I have been in "remission" for 5 years, with the exception of transplant side effect GVHD.
About two years ago my best friend came down with NHL, also went through a stem cell transplant, but only lasted a year when he was taken by Epstein Barr virus infection.
I have felt guilty about that since then. I try to rationalize by looking at as many factors as I can such as my match was by my brother and considered perfect at the time, but his was more difficult do to his heritage. Each of us is so much different, with different cases, you can't compare outcomes and put the burden on yourself. At least that is my way of dealing with it. 61St birthday this month coming up and still working 10 hour days!!! Yeah!
I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer November 1999; during my surgery, chemo and radiation I found out three other people who worked with me and a good friend were also diagnosed with various forms of cancer. I was the only survivor and spent months wondering why I couldn't be happy I survived. I now realized I was feeling really guilty about surviving when my co-workers and my friend did not.
It's very difficult and hard for people to understand.
This comment is for everyone especially Kathleen. You are all an inspiration and a tribute to the human spirit. What you are all feeling is very normal and understandable. If things get too much, grief/survival councelling is available. Just being able to talk to someone, especially a professional who understands is a life saver. I know from experience. I wish you all good health and peace.
I didn't realize what I was going through for the last 6+ years was guilt of surviving. My husband & I were diagnosed with cancer within a month of each other, he had the worst & I had the better. He was given 6 mos, lived 3, & I 'm here 6 years later, & only after reading this article did I finally realize what was going on with me. I hope that I can get over the guilt & move on because I was spared for a reason, & I need to put my faith back in God...........Sincerely..............M
It's really very simple: surviving cancer has given you valuable experience, which you can now share with others to help them. I have had a colostomy for about 14 years, as a consequence of ano-rectal cancer. Shortly after, I was one of the founding trustees of the Colostomy Association, and I am currently their consultant. Professionally a research scientist, I have been able to research and develop colostomy management techniques on myself, and having for some twenty years also taught aquatics and trained aquatics teachers, as well as teaching anatomy and physiology to sports coaches, I discovered that I was better placed than most members of the medical profession to advise patients on returning to sport and an active life. I discovered that my paper on "Return to Sport after Abdominal Surgery" has already become a minor classic, because the subject had never been treated before. I have also written and maintain two websites on the subject, one bi-lingual, English-French. So there's no need to feel guilty: just get stuck in and help!
I am a double mastectomy; cancer survivor. Yes, I have felt very guilty when 3 of my best friends have died from cancer. Why did I survive and they didn't? I carried this guilt for a long time. I am a widow, mid sixties, never had children, parents deceased, I have no one but myself. One day I stopped and realized I can sit here and feel sorry for myself and continue having a pitty party. OR...I became involved in animal rescue and am giving talks throughout the state on animal emergency disaster preparedness. I feel you have to get involved in something you have passion for and put the past in the past and thank the Lord he spared your life for a reason. Help others to get over the hurdles, apply what you have learned.
My triple-negative breast cancer is a variety that tends to have less-positive outcomes. I've felt guilty that I'm alive while younger women with the same diagnosis have died, often leaving young children. I try to see the whole cancer journey as a crap shoot. In many cases, there's no rhyme or reason to who gets it and who dies from it. (Even for lung cancer. Many smokers never get cancer.) Realizing that these things are out of my control helps relieve my guilt.
Surviving cancer has had minimal impact as the chemo and challenges of the cancer itself, or something not naming itself, aggravated by body into a nightmare existence with rheumatoid arthritis. I hardly mention my cancer and often go around my daily life chores without a bra and am totally unconscious of my flat chest. It's the RA I can't stand, the drugs are horrible and so capable of hurting much more that the chemo. I also have a nasty aggravation of spinal stenosis, and for some odd reason, I have torn both my rotator cuffs. Needless to say I am chronically depressed, and in chronic pain. The sin of being depressed has me at the edge of tears and insane laughter often at the same time. Is this part of being guilty about being a survivor? I don't know - when I do share this people just murmur and seem at a loss. As am I, at a loss.
In 2007, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I had a successful surgery (lobe removal) followed by chemotherapy. I was careful to not join a "recovery" group for this very reason (feeling guilty that I was doing so well). To start with, several people more or less told me that I deserved lung cancer because I was an ex-smoker. Watching others around me who were not doing well made me actually begin to wish that I was not doing so well because it made me feel guilty and I realized this was not healthy. I then isolated myself as much as I was able, and concentrated on my own recovery apart from the recovery of someone else. My "support" came from my doctors and my husband. I was shocked at how people judge others and how this affects those with cancer. If I had it to do over, I would never have shared that I was going through cancer with anyone other than my husband and my children. My heart goes out to anyone with cancer ... especially children. To deal with my guilt, I had to remember that I could do nothing about the past and I also could do nothing about another person's condition. I only have control over my own treatment and actions.
In 1984 I was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer (Paget's Disease). I went through a mastectomy, which was successful, as the cancer had not yet spread.
Very often I have wondered why I was spared, when so many, especially young women with children, were not. I don't have any real answers.
What I have been given, is more of a desire to help other people and a very real sense of empathy and compassion for other women with cancer.
Since my surgery, I have gone through a painful divorce, recovered from alcoholism, cared for my mother with alzheimer's disease and am presently at age 68, teaching developmentally disabled adults. I was allowed to see my children grow up.
Would I want to go through that experience with cancer again to learn what I did? No! But I have had to accept the things about which I can do nothing, and try to do what I can.
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Proceeds from website advertising help support our mission. Mayo Clinic does not endorse non-Mayo products and services.
Check out these best-sellers and special offers on books and newsletters from Mayo Clinic.
A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.org," "Mayo Clinic Healthy Living," and the triple-shield Mayo Clinic logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
We comply with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.