Being diagnosed with cancer can bring on many different types of emotions from fear to sadness to relief; however, many patients don’t think about how they might feel after they complete their treatment. Many are surprised when they begin to feel guilty. This is known as survivor’s guilt. It is a feeling that is often experienced by those who have survived a major or traumatic event such as being diagnosed with cancer. The feelings may come from a sense of guilt that they survived the disease and another patient did not or they did well with treatment while another had a very difficult time recovering.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you think you might be suffering from survivor’s guilt:
- You are not alone. Survivor’s guilt is very common. It is a natural response for many cancer patients. It often feels like sadness, depression or even grief.
- Tell someone about how you’re feeling. Talk with a friend or family member you trust. You can always reach out to a social worker to help you process these feelings. Acknowledging those feelings can be help you process them and ultimately overcome them.
- Consider keeping a journal. Sometimes it is helpful to write down how we are feeling in order to help us manage those emotions. Starting an art project is another creative way to cope with survivor’s guilt.
- Remind yourself that every patient’s cancer journey is different and that’s okay. It is unrealistic to compare your treatment outcomes to someone else’s because everyone is different.
- Be supportive. If you know someone who is going through treatment and having a difficult time, it is important to provide them with as much support as possible. As a cancer survivor, you offer a unique type of support because you have been there.
- Attend a cancer survivor’s support group. Reaching out to other survivors can be helpful.
Don’t wait to get help if you think you are experiencing survivor guilt. It is important to acknowledge and address the issue sooner rather than later. Patients can talk directly to oncology social workers through the following community organizations: www.livestrong.org, www.cancer.org and www.cancercare.org.
About Joy McCall, LCSW
Joy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.
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