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Survivor Guilt.

girlypants's picture
Posts: 31
Joined: Jan 2012

Does anyone ever have survivor guilt? I am 28 and had a right partial nepherotomy in January, grade one and two cancer. It has been a long road to normal life, but I have been trying to take life and live every day. Had been doing great and just feel like my new position at work has set me into a crying mess every night. I just feel so overwhelmed, and guilty for living when others didnt. Also some people whom I thought were close friends seemed to disown me this year over stupid petty high school like stuff. All of this seems so hard to process now. Maybe crying is the best way to handle it but my eyes are so puffy now! Hardly a good look for my position at work. Does anyone else seem to notice that their "friends" vanished or dont like the new happy for life you? That is what happened to me. I beat cancer and became a good, soulful, healthy person and my friends dont like it. Maybe I just had all bad friends. But being alone is hardly fun. Ugh time for bed.

icemantoo's picture
Posts: 3354
Joined: Jan 2010


Don't you remember the old days before you were diagosed. The words Kidney Cancer were unknown and scary at first. That is how the people outside our club think. No need to feel guilty. They are just ignorent like we used to be a long time ago. Now you have joined a club where the words stage 1 Kidney Cancer are no longer to be feared and many members are doing a lot better than expected even a few years ago for Stage 2, 3 and 4 AND SURVIVING THOSE AS WELL.

Fight back. Try and educate the ignorant. Stay positive.


Texas_wedge's picture
Posts: 2798
Joined: Nov 2011

That's a good reply by iceman, with which I fully agree. I'd like to add to it. I've lived surrounded by very real survivor guilt for most of my life and it's no laughing matter. No matter how irrational it may be it's very real and a serious problem.

The straightforward answer to your question is "Yes!!" Many, many people in our shoes feel survivor guilt and I hope that knowing that fact will make life a little easier for you. To make it better still: the fact that you feel that way is both natural and healthy and also a testimony to your humanity and your compassion for others. Your recognition that you're a better human being now and that some former friends have disappointed you indicates how you've grown (and also,sadly, how they haven't - but that's their problem, not yours).

For me, much deeper survivor guilt is a major dimension of life - more momentous than the fact of living with cancer.

However, I suffer a bit of survivor guilt myself. I sometimes have to resist a wish to find myself close to death simply because of the unfairness of it all and the feeling of being a phoney because I'm feeling fine while others with far better prognoses than I have are truly suffering - the feeling is that I have no right to be so lucky, but there's no rhyme or reason to any of this. None of it relates to justice or virtue.

You may remember my suggesting a while ago that you should consider counselling with a clinical psychologist, or a specialist cancer support Counsellor. I'm convinced that would be helpful for you and it's a process iceman has already begun with you. It's called for not because you're weak (you've shown that you're actually strong) but because you are sensitive. Survivor guilt, whatever its origin, is a genuine problem and getting help in coping with it makes very good sense.

foxhd's picture
Posts: 3183
Joined: Oct 2011

You bet your bottom dollar that alot of us have survivors guilt. Back in the spring when I found out I was responding to the MDX, I experienced strong guilt. I didn't think it was fair that others did not have the opportunity that I was given. Especially younger people like yourself. I thought alot of it was due to my health care profession. A friend said to me, "You think you feel bad, just think how your Dr. feels, knowing there is a drug out there that can save lives but they can't give it to everyone." (mdx is in a clinical trial). I did cry when I thought of it. Often. It affects me less at this time. I now have refocused. Now I am driven to continue doing well so that my progress will benefit others, speed up the FDA approval and prove that we can live with cancer.(honestly, I can say that I am overall healthier and in better shape than most of my friends.)..The thought of cancer to a 20's y.o. is beyond mosts comprehension. Most still feel immortal. Your friends may not know how to deal with it. You may also have a part in their discomfort. When you can take your cancer with a grain of salt and display that it is no big deal, then they may respond the same way. You are not damaged goods. Again, as I have said repeatedly, Do not waste energy on negative thinking. Concentrate on the rainbow. Not the puddles. There are also several people on this board who have had a difficult time with coping but have done real well after recieving medication to combat depression. There are tools available for people like ourselves. Please use them. Your friends here care alot. That is why you asked. You know it. We are behind you all the way. And we are always here with a shoulder to lean on. FLY. Fox loves you.

rae_rae's picture
Posts: 300
Joined: Oct 2010

Beautiful replies! I have survivors guilt as well. One of the reasons I don't post much anymore! Large tumor, necrosis, sarcomatoid features, grade 3/4, recurrence scare- and I am blessed to be cancer free. I feel guilty. It is very real. Good topic!

DogRescuer's picture
Posts: 52
Joined: Feb 2012

I can sure relate to your experience with friends' behavior after your cancer diagnosis. I had mere acquaintances contact me with loads of unexpected support, while some of my closer friends maintained minimal contact. Weird.

I always think of life as a train--friends get off, while others climb on. I treasure those friends who stayed on for the ride.

Posts: 50
Joined: Aug 2012

I don't know about survivor's guilt as I am still very new to all of this..

But I have noticed changes in friends that I thought was my imagination, or distorted through the fog of these cursed pain meds.

My closest friend of 35 years seems to have backed way off from me. I tried to ask his wife if something was wrong and she said the whole idea of cancer scares him. While I don't disagree with that, it scares the hell out of me too, I wonder what that has to do with the sudden distance between us. As I mentioned this is all still very new to me, so perhaps it's something he still needs to digest?

What i do know is that I feel it, so I think I can relate to your concerns.

jason n
Posts: 12
Joined: Sep 2012

I never felt guilt until a close friend was diagnoised with colon cancer and did not do well as it was discovered late in the game, but the more I tried to help him cope, the better I felt. Seems like if you had to choose a cancer to have, early stage RCC would be right up there on the list, which could also be a source of feeling guilty (what could be better than just chopp'in it out :)). I do recall my "party friends" of that time distancing themselves from me, probably because for most people it requires being scared %^*!less to make major lifestyle changes, and they were probably concerned enough for my health to not temp me into doing things they knew I shouldnt be doing (aka boozin).
This is possibly the case with your friends and you are misinterpiting some tough love ?
Either way, keep your chin up,,, you will live happily ever after

adman's picture
Posts: 338
Joined: Jul 2012

My first visit to my nephrologist...post-surgery, he said those exact words to me.
At first I had thought..."what a thing to say", then thought about it and saw the light...sort of :) Easy for us Stage 1, Grade 1's to see that blessing I guess.

Gob Bless all the folks that don't have it as lucky, or the people that have a much more serious types of cancer.



garym's picture
Posts: 1651
Joined: Nov 2009


Survivor's guilt is something we all seem to go through at some point to one degree or another and I guess that makes it a normal part of the process. I believe the root of it begins with a simple one word question; Why? I lost 7 people close to me to RCC prior to my dx so you would think I was a prime candidate, but I never asked why until my neighbor died from bladder cancer 6 mos. after being pronounced "cancer free". Witnessing his wife's grief caused me to ask "Why him and not me?" flooding me with (perhaps suppressed) the dark emotions of survivor's guilt. I credit this board with getting me through it, only here did I find people that understood, and people I could talk to that would listen when family and friends would not. It wasn't because they did not want to or no longer cared, they simply had no concept and could not grasp what I was feeling.

I echo Tex's advice, find someone that does understand, that has experience dealing with this and pour your heart out to them, you'll feel much better and the distance between you and your true friends will vanish in time.

Hang in there,


JackieP125's picture
Posts: 56
Joined: Jan 2012

I too have survivor's guilt real often. Especially when I see or hear about others who were not so fortunate. I keep asking God why me? Also, some of my good friends and family members ran away when I was diagnosed. I figure it made them look at their own mortality. Most of them drinkers and smokers. I figured I was a downer and they needed to keep up their fun positive party lifestyle. Even now people get jittery if I mention my cancer in a social situation so I have learned to just be quiet, and say to myself one of these days... it could be you. Karma bites.

Posts: 37
Joined: Feb 2012

As several people pointed out, I think it is fairly common for us to admit to having a sense of guilt. I was dx'd back in February and after my surgery in March often felt guilty. Once we get through the surgical pain, life is generally fine for most of us. Most of us do not have to experience radiation or chemotherapy.

My only comment is that coming soon after the death of my mother last November, I went/am going through the full-blown "mid-life crisis" this summer. Even that is getting better as time goes on.

Take care, Ed

donna_lee's picture
Posts: 1018
Joined: Feb 2009

Survivors' Guilt seems to go with any major disease, but I somehow think cancer is the one that tops the list. It was a disease that was discussed in hushed tones while I was growing up; and even when I was fisrt diagnosed, there were people I knew who were reluctant to even ask how/what/why. I took the attitude to be very open about it all, if they asked. Part of this was based upon the fact that my cancer was an accidental discovery, and a little education might help others to not overlook symptoms.
And yes, my attitude toward being a survivor made me more focused on living an enjoyable life. And if it meant finding some new friends and interests, I did it. (Do I have the same circles of friends I had at age 28-NO.)(at 50-some) (at my age-some). Age and circumstances change you.

At the time I was Dx'd, I did and still do belong to a small group of women who meet regularly. About the same time, Jo was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Disease and Bonnie with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. They both went thru every treatment there was, even a stem cell transplant. I'm the one still standing. And that gives one the guilts. Big time.

There is nothing wrong with having the guilty feelings; but there are alternative ways to deal with it. Support Group meetings to talk out your concerns and feelings; private counseling-many hospice groups have free counseling or insurance companies may cover part of the cost or the local mental health agency can refer you; talk to your physician about an anti-depressant medication. I have been on meds for 20 years and from the research I've done, I probably should have been on one since early adulthood because I don't produce enough serotonin.

There is no quick answer. With time, some of the feelings will resolve themselves; but with help, the resolution may be faster.

Like most all of us, we like to feel in control with a capital C. Now "the Big C" is cancer, and we're not in control...of our bodies, our minds, our feelings. Everyone is telling us what to do, where to be at a certain time, what to eat, how we should feel.
Hopefully, your friends are thinking of you and not themselves when they react. And if they aren't, maybe you should say something.
Good luck and keep coming back to this board.

foxhd's picture
Posts: 3183
Joined: Oct 2011

Donna, your insights are awesome. Despite professional counseling that some may seek, there is nothing like first hand experience. Your perspective is worth more than any textbook can provide to "counselors". Been there , done that is a cliche. But been there done that is for real. Such good advice.

Limelife50's picture
Posts: 476
Joined: Nov 2011

I think as people we always evolving ,we become different over time but at a slower pace.I think getting dxed with cancer changes us alot in a short amount of time ,for example i am sure thier were certain comments we might have found humorous before we got dxed ,but now we no longer do.

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