Overcoming Cancer Survivor Guilt – Maureen Johnson wrote, in her novel ‘Girl at Sea,’ “Guilt isn’t always a rational thing, Clio realized. Guilt is a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not.”
As explained in the book, guilt is many things and can be a mixture of feelings that ordinarily combines words such as regret and blame unites them into 1 feeling. When a person has these feelings of guilt they often are moved to begin asking some really bad questions such as If only I would have or What if I had handled it differently which is a road that goes nowhere.
It is one of many emotions that run the gamut through the emotions of many people who have or are living with cancer. People with cancer may feel guilt for a variety of reasons.
Tracey had breast cancer. The first time, she didn’t have to have chemo, the next time she did. “But I didn’t get sick as everyone did. I would sit in the cancer center and see people being wheeled in or wheeled out, ambulances come to get someone who was very sick after his or her treatment, and all I could think about was, my cancer wasn’t like theirs. They really had cancer.”
Sue had ovarian cancer – stage one. She had surgery, and pretty much that was it, other than blood tests. “I never really saw it as cancer because one, it got caught and taken care of pretty quickly, and two, I was not having to face what a lot of people I knew had.”
Both women admitted to feeling guilty for surviving.
Feeling guilt is common among survivors of most out of the normal events – like natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas in a big way. Cancer patients feel guilty because they got through the treatment without ‘scars.’
Psychologists call this type of guilt – imagined guilt or survivor guilt. Tracey talked about feeling guilty when she saw fellow cancer patients in the cancer center and saw many who were in advanced stages or who responded poorly to treatments. Tracey was not having that issue. Other cancer patients have concurred with Tracey’s statement and felt the same way.
The survivor’s guilt happens when cancer patients start talking about the stages of cancer they have, the treatments received, and more. Finding a commonality does seem to help.
At the same time, it can be negative. In a lot of these cases, though survivor guilt ensues. Jeanne spoke recently of feeling some sort of melancholy because she felt responsible when a fellow cancer patient reached advanced stages and died. “It is like I feel like I should have helped her or something. I wonder, why me? Why did I survive and she died?”
A study from the ‘Committee on Cancer Survivorship’ in the early 2010s offered the following tips for overcoming cancer survivor guilt.
First, examine the base for the guilt. To accomplish this, one should find a qualified therapist. Talk therapy, journaling, or participating in a support group is encouraged. Letting go of guilt is not easy, but can help improve your well-being and your ability to cope with cancer.
Secondly, remember that cancer is not anyone’s fault. Even the experts don’t have a full understanding of why most types of cancer develop. People with cancer feel guilty about the lifestyle choices they made, like cigarette smoking. An important way to overcome the guilt is to let go of mistakes you think you made in the past.
Thirdly, focus on positive things in your life for which you are thankful. Do something you enjoy. Find a hobby.
Survivor guilt is real but can be overcome.