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  • Writer's pictureThe After Cancer

Cancer survivor guilt: how to deal with this late effect

a cancer survivor suffering with survivors' guilt walking his dog

Why do cancer survivors feel guilty?

Surviving cancer is a tremendous achievement, but it can also evoke unexpected emotions, including survivor guilt. Many cancer survivors may experience guilt for various reasons, such as:

  1. Survival: Some individuals may feel guilty for surviving when others with similar diagnoses did not. They may question why they were spared and harbor feelings of undeserved luck or a sense of injustice.

  2. Treatment outcomes: If a survivor's treatment is successful while others face more challenging outcomes, they may feel guilty for having a better response to therapy. This guilt may be further intensified if they had similar or less aggressive forms of cancer.

  3. Impact on loved ones: Survivors may feel guilty for the burden their illness placed on their loved ones. Witnessing the emotional distress of family and friends can lead to feelings of guilt, even if it was beyond the survivor's control.

Coping with guilt

Dealing with cancer survivor guilt requires acknowledging and addressing these complex emotions. Consider the following strategies to help cope:

  1. Self-reflection: Understand that survivor guilt is a common and natural response to a life-altering experience. Reflect on your feelings and recognize that guilt does not invalidate your journey or the challenges you faced.

  2. Seek support: Connect with other cancer survivors who may have experienced similar feelings. Join support groups or engage in therapy sessions to share your emotions and learn from others who have navigated survivor guilt.

  3. Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Remind yourself that your survival is not something to feel guilty about. Focus on your resilience and the strength it took to overcome cancer.

  4. Pay it forward: Consider ways to give back to the cancer community or support others going through a similar journey. Engaging in advocacy, volunteering, or participating in fundraisers can help alleviate guilt by channeling your experiences into making a positive impact.

Talk about your feelings

Opening up about survivor guilt with trusted friends, family, or healthcare professionals can be immensely helpful. Expressing your emotions and concerns can provide validation and support. Additionally, consider the following communication strategies:

  1. Share your story: Speaking openly about your survivor guilt can help raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding this issue. Sharing your experiences can encourage others to share their own struggles and foster understanding.

  2. Seek professional help: If survivor guilt becomes overwhelming and affects your daily life, it may be beneficial to consult a mental health professional. They can offer guidance, tools, and techniques to help navigate and overcome these challenging emotions.

Remember, survivor guilt is a complex and individual experience. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to heal emotionally. By acknowledging your feelings, seeking support, and engaging in open dialogue, you can gradually find ways to manage and cope with survivor guilt, reclaiming a sense of peace and self-acceptance.


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