Recently, we asked our Facebook community if they've experienced what's known as "survivor guilt" and how they cope with the myriad of challenges beyond the physical that come with having cancer. Survivor’s guilt can range from questions of “Why me?” and “Why did I survive?” to depression and even suicidal thoughts. Some may try to make sense of why they survived and others didn’t, while some people may feel guilty about the changes their families are going through. In its more extreme forms, survivor’s guilt is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"Everyday [I experience survivor's guilt]. I give back. It's the only way I can personally prevent the guilt from getting overwhelming." - @queenbellav "I recently became friends with a man whose wife died at about age 40. I kept apologizing to him when he asked what my story was. I feel terrible but yet, believe that we are all put in the paths of others for specific reasons." - @somekindarunner "Yes [I've experienced survivor's guilt], because my journey wasn't typical. Diagnosed first time at 26. Hemi-colectomy only. No chemo. Diagnosed again 16 yrs later. Caught early - again so more surgery and no chemo. Cancer free so far 17 yrs later. Feel blessed every day." - Paulpaula "I didn't have colon cancer but my mom did and she fought for 4.5 years before we lost her. For a entire year after her passing i felt that i failed her and could've done more for her. One day I woke up and realized there was truly nothing I could've done to help her other than what I did during her time with the cancer." - Shawn "Yes I do, but not as much as I use to. 2 years ago I was going into surgery. My Dr. was going to do a laparoscopy to find out why I was having so much stomach pain and just as they got me into the OR I coded. My heart stopped and after 5 minutes of CPR I was brought back. My Dr performed emergency abdominal surgery and found that my colon ruptured! All my organs were shutting down. He removed a tumor, my appendix and my ovaries, and a foot of my intestines. I was told I had Stage 4 colon cancer and was hospitalized for 3 months. Then I started chemo and then I had my ileostomy reversed. Just had hernia repair surgery and I am still home recovering from that. I use to struggle everyday wondering why I was brought back to life and why some others aren't so lucky. I thought I had to do something grand with my life since I was given a second chance. I've come to terms with the fact that maybe I'm still here so I can share my story and give others hope! Hope that yes, miracles do happen and anything is possible. God is amazing!" - Cindy "Yes, I have. experienced it. My friend's son died of it after I had just finished treatment successfully. I talked about it during a session with a social worker and grief counselor. I try to make my survival worthwhile in some way each day." - Cheryl "Yes, so I try to support others when I can and try to bring awareness to the importance of early detection." - Sandy
5 Tips for Managing Survivor's Guilt
Unfortunately, survivor’s guilt is common, but it’s important not to blame yourself for your diagnosis or survival. Cancer is complicated and there are many causes—we’re just beginning to understand the whole process. Remind yourself that you can’t change what happened to you or others in the past, but you do have a say in your future. Here are 5 things you can do to help manage survivor’s guilt and get on the path to living your best life:
- Reach out to a counselor or therapist (organizations like Cancer Care offer free counseling).
- Express your feelings through a hobby like art, music or writing.
- You’re not alone! Call our Toll-free Helpline at (877) 422-2030 whenever you need support.
- Explore your spiritual side—you may find answers there.
- Volunteering and helping others can be a great way to pay it forward and share your story, which may ease the burden of guilt.
Thank you to everyone who shared their experience. Have you experienced feelings of guilt? If so, what’s helped you? Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help.