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Feeling 'guilty' for surviving...

Posts: 4
Joined: Apr 2001

I am an 8 yr survivor of Hodgkin's disease. I was diagnosed when I was 22. I had an absolutely awesome group of freinds who were there every step of the way. They never treated my like I was different in any way. Last Feb - 7 yrs later - one member of that core group of freinds was diagnosed with cancer. He was given very little chance of survival, and was only given one chemo as sort of token effort at treatment. In Nov he died. He and I were not really close prior to his diagnosis because he was always very quiet and private. Once he was diagnosed though, we talked alot, and he told me alot of things that he didnt tell some of our other freinds. Througout the whole process,our freinds turned to me for advise and information. I really felt helpless. There was nothing I could do, but everyone sort of thought that I should have some magic answer. I know that they really didn't expect me to be able to help, but I still feel like I should have been able to do more. I've also thought about how unfair it is that such a wonderful man is dead. Does anyone else feel a sort of guilt for being a survivor - asking yourself 'what makes me better or more worthy than him'? I know it sounds crazy, but when people say 'why him?' I feel like I have recieved some unfair gift.

Posts: 105
Joined: Nov 2000

For what it's worth, I have similar feelings. My cancer was ovarian, but by accident it was discovered at Stage 1A. I didn't even need chemotherapy. Just knowing that I had the cancer was a pretty earth-shattering experience, but I feel somehow inauthentic when I talk with other survivors who are undergoing radiation or chemo--it's as though because I didn't have those experiences, I'm not "entitled" to think of myself as a cancer survivor. By corollary, then, there is something wrong with me if I still feel this was a life-changing experience. Also, I feel embarrassed talking to other cancer survivors who were not nearly so lucky--actually, guilty might be a better word. Like, who am I to have been so lucky? Somehow, by rights I should be going through chemo--at least I think so, on some level. Why should I be so lucky when other wonderful people aren't?

Is this anything like what you're feeling?

Posts: 2
Joined: Mar 2001

Ohmigosh, I cried when I read your message. I can so relate to what you're saying. I was diagnosed with breast cancer October 2000. I had a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. I did not have to have radiation or chemo, and I feel guilty about that. I can relate to feeling like I can't lay claim to being a "real" survivor. I even dropped out of a support group, because everyone there was going thru chemo and/or radiation. How could I complain or talk about my pain when they were still going thru treatment that I never experienced? It's nice to know I'm not the only one feeling like that. Thanks.


Posts: 3
Joined: Nov 2000

It's so nice to find other people who are going through the same feelings!! ACS' Relay For Life has a survivors' lap--even though I survived my cancer, I don't feel I qualify to do that lap because I didn't go through chemo or radiation. My sister-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January; I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April. She died a week ago, and I'm going through guilt for having survived. She was a far better person than me--how come I was spared!? If anything, I can learn from the life she lived and try my best to live my life as she did: with great compassion and selflessness and lots of love for everyone.

Posts: 105
Joined: Nov 2000

Thank you both so much for responding! You've now given me what you thanked me for--knowing that I'm not alone.

Posts: 39
Joined: Apr 2001

You should never feel guilty. By the sound of it you did all that was in your power to do. Just talking to a person helps more then you know and I bet he is looking down and smiling at you for it. Don't take to heart what others say. God is just not ready for you yet. I feel we are all on this earth for a reason and to learn. And when it comes our time then it's our time but untill then live life to its fullist and don't pay any mind to what others say if it is in a negitive way.
God Bless you and take care.
Many hugs Leanne

Posts: 105
Joined: Nov 2000

Leanne is absolutely right that you should not feel guilty for not being able to save your friend. The gift you gave him was priceless, and since he shared things with you that he wouldn't share with others, I, too, think he's very grateful to you.

I think the guilt for just being alive, though, is not uncommon for a while. One thing to remember is that we don't have control over everything. Feeling guilty for surviving is the equivalent of wishing you had died. And if you hadn't survived, who would have given your friend the comfort you did? Maybe you should think that you were spared so that you could give comfort to others. I don't think anyone who hasn't been there can really understand. Be helpful, supportive, loving, and all that, but there are still some things that only another survivor will "get". Your friend was lucky to have you.


feathers4's picture
Posts: 7
Joined: Apr 2001

Dear Rajane,
I know how it feels, I had uterine cancer in 1991, at the same time my 'then mother in law' had cervical cancer. We took the walk together, however her walk became more and more difficult as hers had metastasized so badly. I know how it is to wonder 'why me'...and to wonder 'why NOT me' as you hold her 5 year old son as you watch her take her last breath. The walk with her was a painful one, and I was there for her every step to the end. It gave me a strength I didn't know I had, even though I thought it was destroying me at the time. Now, as I write this today, I was tested for a lump in my breast this morning, and need a biopsy as it does not look good. All day I have asked God, why me. Thank you for reminding me that a few years back I asked him, 'why NOT me'.
I don't know why he chooses things this way. But I will walk the walk, and make the decisions I must, and take with me the knowledge and strength I have gained, but had forgotten till I wrote this. Do not feel guilty for surviving, there has not been a day I have not thanked him for the second chance at life. My daughter is 17, she was 7 the first time. And told me tonite, she will be with me through all of it, no matter what it takes. And THAT, I believe, was
"WHY NOT ME" then.

Posts: 6
Joined: May 2001

I know the feeling! Although I haven't gone throught it myself, my husband was just recently diagnosed with advanced adenocariconoma of the stomach after having a baseball size tumor removed along with half of his stomach and gall bladder. We're following thru now with chemo but I just keep asking myself why him? He's the best thing that has ever happened to me and I can't imagine life without him.But we can only do so much but that's what makes it so hard. Good luck and may God comfort you! Sincerely cgw

Posts: 1
Joined: Jul 2001

Yes, I feel guilty of being given the gift of life. I was diagnosed with intermediate grade melanoma 2 months ago and have had two back to back surgeries. The first surgery in the dermatologists office removed the tumor and provided the specimen that provided my diagnosis. The second surgery followed one month later at H Lee Moffitt in Tampa. This wider excision and lymph node excision demonstrated that I was negative for further cancer.

I might not feel the way I do if it were not for the fact that I was a clinical pharmacist with specialization in oncology. I had seen many bad cases of melanoma and this scared the daylights out of me.

I know that I am whining, but I don't understand. Some how, some way, God must have a plan, but I can't see it. I can't grasp it. Why have I lived when others that I see in my day to day work aren't. I didn't do anything special to deserve this.

I am grateful to know that someone else feels this way and I wish I knew what to say.


Posts: 4
Joined: Nov 2001

Being a 20 yrs survivor who was expected to die each of the three times the cancer has occurred I think I have some sense of what you are saying and feeling. More people than I care to counts who expected to attend my funeral are already gone. People I have known and though were friends have become cold and distant with me especially if they have lost someone else to cancer and resent their loss and my continued existence. I have also learned far more than I ever wanted to know about this incredibly capricious disease. Yet I still feel helpless when it comes to another of my friends or family being upset at the least by a possibility in their own lives or at the worst also "joining the club." Who knows why some of us live far longer than expected and some of us don't when the disease is not all that "serious" comparatively biolgoically. We don't have that choice. But I like to think that those of us who are survivors are a sign of hope for those newly diagnosed or fearful of being diagnosed sometime in the future. Sometimes when the black cloud of depression gets really big over my head I'm not sure whether my survivial is a gift or a curse.

Posts: 2
Joined: May 2003

After a 36 year remission my lymphoma came back with a vengeance. One day after my 57th birthday, I was in big trouble again. The pain in my right side was being caused by a 15 centimeter tumor that had shut down my right kidney. Lymph nods were also blocking my left kidney and I was in kidney failure. The lymphoma was already in stage 4. As long as I was in kidney failure, treatment could not begin. By the grace of God and a good urologist, a procedure was successful in getting my left kidney functional. After multiple rounds of CHOP, a stem cell transplant, and radiation, I

Posts: 1
Joined: Apr 2003

I call myself a "pseudo-survivor" because I had a "benign" spinal cord tumor removed in 1996. Because the tumor (diagnosis "ependymoma")was classified as a "benign" tumor, I have had trouble defining myself as a cancer survivor. I did not have chemo or radiation - just bulk removal. The type of tumor that was removed from my spinal cord is "rare" in adults. For sometime I visited a spinal cord tumor website, but the real survivors there were more debiliated than I am, and this was very guilt inducing for me, so I stopped visiting that website.

Looking at me, one would not know that I had this tumor, unless you saw the tell-tale scar (hence the "zipperneck") but I know.

Thanks for the view from this end of the spectrum.

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