How to Cope With Cancer Survivor Guilt

Today, more people than ever are surviving cancer. We have made great strides and advances in terms of treatment, quality of life and overall survivorship. However, when going through a cancer journey, many patients may get to know or hear of others who, sadly, pass away from the disease. Some survivors report feeling a type of “guilt” when their friends or acquaintances do not have the same outcome that they did. We asked our Facebook followers to share their experiences with these emotions.

  • “I had to do some targeted therapy with homework to remind myself that it isn't a fault that I survived. I still deal with it sometimes today, but it has gotten better.” — Julie
  • “Yes, [I felt survivor guilt] for a long time. Today is my 7th birthday of my stem cell transplant! And quite a few of my friends from my floor have passed away already! Why did God save me? I have been trying to be a better person since that to prove to God that I appreciate being saved!! Thank you Roswell!!!!!!!!” — Marcia
  • “Was going through chemo same time my Mom was going through it. Unfortunately, my Mom lost her battle with colorectal cancer six days after my final infusion with my clinical trial. I felt and still do have feelings of guilt and ask why she passed away and I did not. I found myself not talking about my journey while my Mom was going through her own hell. I didn't want the focus on me. To this day, and it has been five years since her passing, the guilt is still there. The way I cope? I don't; it's bottled up inside me. Who do you talk to?” — Mary
    • EDITOR’S NOTE: Roswell Park offers access to many psychosocial support services. Please call 716-845-8022 to be connected with a counselor.
  • “One day I was at the grocery store and I saw a woman who had been at chemo with me the day before. I went over to her to say hi, and she told me that that was her last day of chemo, as they had decided not to do any more, since her cancer was spreading. She told me, a total stranger, about how sad she was that she would not be able to see her grandchildren grow up, etc. The best I could muster was that I was truly sorry; but we did give each other a hug and I let her cry on my shoulder. Three years later, it still makes me sad to remember this day, but when I confided in a friend about what had happened, my wise friend said, ‘Maybe, in a really hard time, you gave that woman someone safe to confide in and cry with.’ That offers me some small measure of comfort.” — JR

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.