How to Deal With Cancer Survivor’s Guilt | Tips to Reduce Feelings of Guilt

Being diagnosed with cancer comes with a lot of questions. “Why did this happen to me?” Or “Did I do something to cause this?” One of the questions I kept asking myself was, “Why am I getting better, but isn’t?” Another question was, “Why did I survive, and didn’t?” Cancer survivor’s guilt is when someone feels sad or sorry because they survived cancer while others didn’t. They might wonder why they got better and feel guilty about it. I certainly did. And I’ve come to find out that this is a very common feeling among cancer survivors. We’re going to go into more detail about what survivor’s guilt is and also provide you with a “cancer survivorship guide” to provide some more tips and resources for managing life after your cancer treatment. 

Tips to Reduce Feelings of Guilt

It’s important to know that getting cancer is not something you or anyone else can control. Cancer can happen to anyone, and it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s one of those unfortunate cards that life sometimes deals to you. Here are some things to remember if you’re feeling this way:

  • Understand that getting cancer is beyond your control; it can happen to anyone, and it’s not your fault.
  • Recognize that feelings of guilt may come and go, and they may change over time.
  • Share your emotions with someone you trust, like a friend or family member, to receive understanding and support during tough times.
  • Consider joining a support group to connect with others who have faced similar experiences and share your feelings in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your life that bring you happiness and gratitude to improve your overall well-being. We actually have a section of our Manta Planner that reminds you to write down what you are grateful for.
  • Find healthy ways to express your emotions, such as journaling, creative activities like art, or relaxation techniques, to cope positively with your feelings.

Our team at Manta Cares has a podcast that can shed light on some of the different experiences of people who have been diagnosed with or cared for someone with cancer. We have had (or are having!) these same feelings as you – we get it!

Managing Emotions

Cancer patients and survivors often go through an emotional roller-coaster. It’s essential to understand and deal with these feelings because they can affect your overall well-being. In addition to survivor’s guilt, you might feel a wide variety of emotions after your cancer treatments are over. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help and support when you’re dealing with these emotions.

  • Self-Image and Cancer. This is about how you see yourself and how cancer can change how you feel about your body and appearance. It’s common to feel self-conscious or different due to physical changes caused by cancer and its treatment.
  • Coping With Uncertainty. Coping with uncertainty means dealing with not knowing what will happen in the future, especially when you’re unsure about the outcome of your health or treatment. It can be challenging, but finding ways to stay positive and taking things one step at a time can help. Unless you find a crystal ball to see the future… if so, please share it with us!
  • How to Cope With Anger. Coping with anger about cancer means finding healthy ways to deal with the strong and sometimes overwhelming feelings of frustration and resentment. Talking to someone you trust, like a friend or counselor, or using relaxation techniques can help you manage and express your anger in a positive way.
  • Anxiety. Coping with anxiety about cancer is about finding ways to manage the worried and nervous feelings that cancer can bring. Deep breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and talking to a therapist or support group can help you deal with anxiety and feel more in control.
  • Depression. Coping with depression about cancer means finding ways to handle the deep sadness and low moods that can come with the illness. Talking to a mental health professional, sharing your feelings with friends and family, and staying active in activities you enjoy can be helpful in managing depression.
  • Managing the Fear of Side Effects Caused by Cancer Treatment. Managing the fear of side effects from cancer treatment is about finding ways to handle the worry and stress about the potential negative impacts of the therapies. It can be helpful to discuss your concerns with your healthcare team, learn about possible side effects, and make a plan to manage them to feel more in control and reduce anxiety.

Coping Strategies

Coping with cancer is a journey in and of itself filled with various emotions and challenges. In this section, we’ll explore how people deal with feelings of guilt, the experience of grief and loss, the potential for growth after surviving cancer, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the impact of cancer on physical, emotional, and social aspects of life.

  • Coping with Guilt. Coping with cancer survivor’s guilt means dealing with the sadness and worry that can come from surviving cancer while others may not. It’s important to remember that getting better is not your fault, and talking to friends, family, or a counselor can help you understand and manage these difficult emotions.
  • Grief and Loss. Coping with grief and loss in the context of cancer means dealing with the deep sadness and sorrow that can come from losing a loved one to the disease. It’s essential to give yourself time to mourn and seek support from friends, family, or a grief counselor. Sharing your feelings and memories can help you process your grief and find ways to remember and honor the person you’ve lost.
  • Post-Traumatic Growth and Cancer. Post-traumatic growth after cancer is when, despite the challenges, some people find positive changes in their lives. They may develop a greater appreciation for life, become more resilient, and find new strengths they didn’t know they had. This growth can happen as people learn to adapt and find meaning in their cancer experience, making them stronger and more hopeful for the future.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cancer. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and cancer can go hand in hand for some people. It’s when the traumatic experience of cancer or its treatment causes intense stress, nightmares, and flashbacks. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s essential to talk to a healthcare professional who can provide support and guidance to manage PTSD and improve overall well-being.
  • Physical, Emotional, and Social Effects of Cancer. Coping with the physical, emotional, and social effects of cancer can be a challenging journey. Physically, it might involve managing pain, fatigue, and other symptoms with the help of your medical team. Emotionally, it’s essential to talk about your feelings and consider therapy or support groups to help with anxiety, sadness, or stress. Socially, staying connected with loved ones and seeking support from friends and family can make dealing with the changes in your relationships easier, while also finding ways to maintain a sense of normalcy in your life.

Conclusion

As if cancer doesn’t give you enough to deal with physically, there’s a whole emotional component to deal with, too. I remember focusing on just getting the cancer out of my body. Little did I know that the cancer experience would stay in my mind long after the physical treatments ended. I experienced a lot of survivor’s guilt. Why was I ok and my friends weren’t? Why did I catch my cancer earlier and my friend didn’t? This feeling still comes and goes, particularly as I know more people who are diagnosed with cancer. I have come to find out that this feeling is very normal. Many of my friends have experienced this, too. You are not alone if you are feeling guilty about surviving cancer.

It’s important to understand that cancer is not something within your control, and it can affect anyone, without blame. Feelings of guilt may be part of this experience, but they are not constant and can change over time. Sharing your emotions with a trusted friend or family member can provide much-needed support during difficult moments. Consider joining a support group to connect with others who have faced similar challenges in a safe and understanding environment. Talk to a professional, like a therapist or a coach, to help process your feelings. Focusing on the positive aspects of life and practicing gratitude can contribute to your well-being. Remember, finding healthy ways to express your emotions, like journaling or creative activities, is essential for positive coping. And always remember, you are not alone in your experience.

Our team at Manta Cares has been there. We are survivors and caregivers, ourselves. We have a podcast that shares experiences and insights from people who have been diagnosed with or cared for someone with cancer. We also feature oncologists and non-profit leaders who are supporting cancer patients. Subscribe to our “Patient from Hell” podcast now and join our global community. Join our community as we navigate the cancer experience together.

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FAQ Section

For Cancer Survivors

  • How do you deal with cancer survivors’ guilt? Coping with cancer survivors’ guilt means finding ways to manage the guilty feelings that sometimes come when you survive cancer while others may not. Talking to a trusted friend or joining a support group can be helpful in understanding and dealing with these emotions. We offer some additional tips in the section above.
  • What are the symptoms of cancer survivor guilt? Symptoms of cancer survivor guilt may include feeling like you don’t deserve to be well or thinking you should have done something to prevent the illness. It can also lead to sadness, worry, or a sense of unfairness when comparing your experience to others.

For Cancer Caregivers

  • What do cancer patients want to hear? One of the things we hear again and again from our community is that your presence and your willingness to listen can be one of the best ways you can help a cancer patient. Sometimes it’s not about what you say, but about how well you listen.
  • What cancer survivors want you to know? This will vary by person, but some cancer survivors want you to acknowledge that their journey was tough, but they’re grateful for the support and understanding they receive from friends and family. They also hope you understand that life after cancer can be different, and they appreciate your kindness and empathy as they move forward.
  • How do you keep a cancer patient happy? Every cancer patient is different, and every day is different for each cancer patient, but showing them love and support by spending time with them, listening to their feelings, and offering a helping hand with daily tasks goes a long way. Small gestures like sending cards, bringing their favorite treats, or sharing a good laugh can also brighten their day.
  • How do you motivate a cancer survivor? First of all, make sure to ask them what would be helpful in supporting them through their cancer experience. Don’t make assumptions. Motivating a cancer survivor often involves being a positive presence in their life, encouraging them to set achievable goals, and celebrating their accomplishments, no matter how small.
  • What is a thoughtful message for a cancer patient? Generally letting a cancer patient know you are there to listen is incredibly helpful. Letting them know you’re there for them through the ups and downs can be very comforting and helpful. Sometimes the most simple message like “I’m thinking of you” can mean a great deal to someone who is feeling very alone in their experience.
  • How do you honor a cancer survivor? You can honor a cancer survivor by acknowledging their strength and resilience, celebrating milestones in their recovery process, and letting them know how much you admire their courage even on the hard days. Making a cancer patient feel heard and supported is an incredible way to honor the challenging experience they are going through.

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