Patients Who Beat Cancer May Struggle With ‘Survivor Guilt’

Many people diagnosed with cancer endure treatments and survive but have long-term physical side effects such as damage to their organs, pain, fatigue and problems with mental acuity. However, less often mentioned among survivor side effects is psychological trauma such as survivor guilt. Although the guilt may be unfounded, the emotion feels real to the survivor, and coping with it is a key to recovery and ongoing well-being.

Survivor guilt often hits not only cancer patients but also those who live through other traumatic events, such as natural disasters, accidents and war. Sometimes those who experience it don’t understand and can’t give a name to what they experience. They only know that they have a deep sense of sadness because they survived and others did not. Sometimes they imagine reasons why they might have been responsible for the deaths of other cancer patients they knew. They may feel regret that they did not encourage other patients, share treatment options or help in other ways.


Sometimes therapy is necessary to help cancer survivors understand the foundations of their guilt so they can cope with it. Some people find solace in joining support groups and sharing how they feel with people who have gone through similar experiences. Others find relief by expressing their feelings in a journal. For some people, survivor guilt goes away eventually, while for others it comes and goes intermittently throughout their lives. The important thing for survivors to realize is that the cancer was not their fault, and they are not responsible for who survives and who does not.

Survivor guilt is one of the emotional impacts of cancer. Others may include anxiety, fear, grief and depression. Are you a cancer survivor? What helped you cope with the feelings you experienced? Watch this video to see the unique and inspiring way that one survivor keeps her spirits up despite multiple diagnoses of breast cancer.

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