Advice for coping with survivor’s guilt

Cancer survivor's guilt is a common, yet often unspoken feeling, which many cancer patients experience after finishing cancer treatment.

It can be any combination of sadness, guilt, and anger that comes from knowing that you survived, while many others didn’t. The intensity of survivor’s guilt can vary greatly from person to person—some people may feel it strongly while others don’t at all.

Cancer itself is a life-changing event, and those who have survived it may naturally wonder why treatment worked for them and not for others. Some people may even feel guilty if they didn’t have to go through the extensive rounds of treatments that they know that so many others have had. Others might not wish to formally celebrate finishing their treatment because there are so many people who may not have the same opportunity to do so.

These can be difficult emotions to cope with, so it’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel after you’ve been through cancer and whatever you are feeling is valid and normal. If you struggle, try remembering that everyone has different bodies, different genetics, and different medical histories; there is no way anyone could predict what might happen when faced with cancer diagnosis. Know that you are never alone and there are many people navigating survivor’s guilt with you.

We recently asked our Icon Facebook community to share their personal experiences and any advice they had for coping with survivor’s guilt. Below are some of the insights they shared.

What has your personal experience with survivor’s guilt been like?

  • It’s a mixture of both sad and happy emotions as some don’t make it, some of us do.
  • Honestly with every person I lose to cancer, it creeps in again – why does treatment work for some and not for others?
  • When some of your close friends from your cancer support group die and they’re younger than you, survivor guilt is inevitable.
  • I felt guilty through my first round of radiation. I felt guilty that I only had to go through radiation while others had to go through chemo as well.
  • It never occurred to me to feel guilty, I was glad to finish having the radiation and was feeling lucky the cancer was grade 1 and it was now gone.

What advice do you have for others on coping with survivors’ guilt?

  • Remember you didn’t choose to be sick. Focus on the fact that you had cancer and survived it.
  • I coped by making an extra effort to help people, donating to cancer fundraising and giving back to society.
  • It really helped me to meet lots of other people who had also been through cancer and hear their stories. That helps get perspective and develop gratitude.
  • I try to live in the moment and honour those gone before us by living my life well. It’s a mental marathon at times.
  • My support group really helped me. I look forward to meeting and helping people any way I can.
  • I volunteer at a cancer wellness centre and I’m worse when I see young people come through. But this is also my place for giving back.
  • I’ve lost one dear friend to cancer and for a while found it hard that I was still here and not her but have come to realise that was her journey and I have my own to live. I appreciate the love around me and the support and don’t take one day for granted.

We are always here for youWe are always here for you

At Icon, we’re here to support you through every stage of your cancer journey – from diagnosis, throughout your treatment and beyond. If you feel overwhelmed by feelings of survivor’s guilt, we encourage you to reach out to your Icon care team. They can listen to any concerns you may have and help you access the right resources and support to help you through this difficult time.

Alternatively, you might find comfort being part of our Iconic community, hearing the stories and advice from others who understand what you’re going through.

Want to read more about navigating life after cancer?

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The content found on the Icon Cancer Centre website is intended solely for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. It is not a substitute for consulting with a qualified medical professional. Our website is designed to provide information and support to the general public. Please be mindful that we do not dispense medical advice, and for personalised medical guidance, we strongly advise you to consult with a qualified medical professional or doctor.

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