top of page
  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Survivor's Guilt

Updated: Dec 17, 2022

By Abigail Johnston



Survivor guilt (or survivor’s guilt; also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not, often feeling self-guilt. The experience and manifestation of survivor’s guilt will depend on an individual’s psychological profile.


Survivors Guild Symptoms

When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) was published, survivor guilt was removed as a recognized specific diagnosis, and redefined as a significant symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It may be found among survivors of combat, epidemics, murder, natural disasters, rape, terrorism among the friends and family of those who have died by suicide, and in non-mortal situations.”


This is such a real thing amongst breast cancer patients and I confess that I had no real concept of how this works until the first person with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer I was close with died. I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for how I would feel about Kari dying. That was her name, Kari. Kari Roush.


I read once that when a person dies, there are three deaths: 1) when their physical body fails; 2) when the physical body is buried; and 3) when their name is forgotten. Kari has passed the first two deaths. As far as it depends on me, her memory will not be forgotten.


When I heard Kari died, it wasn’t a surprise. She’d been failing for weeks and she was home and cared for by her family and hospice. She was comfortable (as comfortable as possible) and she was ready to leave the suffering of her human body and go to be with Jesus in heaven.


She was ready, but I wasn’t.


Kari’s death hit me like a ton of bricks and I’d never met her in real life. We’d never even talked on the phone. We were literally strangers to each other except for the late night messages and discussions we had regularly. It felt weird that I was floored and felt so awful. It felt almost wrong, like I didn’t have a right to be grieving when I had such a small part of her.


Turns out, I was also dealing with survivors guilt in a big way. You see, Kari and I had nearly an identical diagnosis, hormone positive, her2- breast cancer that had metastasized to our bones only. We were even on the same medication. Yet, I was stable and she started having progression. Once the cancer left her bones, there wasn’t much time.


Others I know have lived for years with their cancer in various organs.

Others I know have bone only Mets that stay put for decades. Kari didn’t. Kari’s cancer started growing out of control.


Why?


Only God knows.


How am I different or any other patient? Again, only God knows.

What I know is that I felt for the first time in my life, when Kari died, that there was no reason it should have been her and not me.


None.


And that sucked, big time. It still does.


I see friends around me dealing with progression, brain lesions, new organ involvement, lesions that are growing and lighting up. I see friends around me who are stable, some for decades. There are those who are diagnosed and die very quickly. There are those who linger, just hanging on. There are those who are living lives of meaning, working, being productive. There are those who can’t.


Nothing can predict reliably who will be an outlier and who will succumb quickly. And that sucks, really sucks. It sucks for the people who get so sick and their families and it also sucks for those of us left behind.


It seems to me that there is still some amount of stigma for those of us who struggle with survivors guilt. Somehow it seems to me that there is an expectation that we’d be able to move on, to shrug off the sadness and often paralysis when a person has died. I don’t know why and I don’t have answers, I just know that survivor’s guilt is a real thing and it is truly awful.


If you are dealing with the death of someone or even just struggling with sharing good news when people around you are struggling, it’s normal. To have survivors guilt or to struggle with feelings that others who are not metastatic don’t understand, is real, it’s natural and it’s normal.


There is help available. Reach out, ask for help, work through your feelings. Stuffing feelings of guilt, ptsd, etc only hurts you. No one else.


Ask for help.


Have you experienced survivor's guilt? Share your experience with us!


 

For more writings by Abigail, visit her website at https://nohalfmeasures.blog/

22 views

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


Meditation Mondays:

Chakra Chanting with Gloria

Mondays at 10:00 a.m. ET 

RSVP

Thursday Night Thrivers:

All Stages Support Group

Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. ET

RSVP

 

Thursday Night Thrivers:

Metastatic Breast Cancer Support Group

First and third Thursdays

of the month at 7:00 p.m. ET

RSVP

 

Thursday Night Thrivers:

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Support Group

Second Thursday

of the month at 7:00 p.m. ET

RSVP

Tuesday Night Thrivers

Después de un Diagnóstico:

Grupo de Apoyo en Español

2do y Cuarto Martes de cada mes 

7:00 p.m. ET

RSVP​

Encourage and Empower

For Newly Diagnosed

September 10, 11:00 a.m. ET

RSVP

Breast Cancer Book Club

The first Sunday of the month

RSVP

Brain Spotting

May 27,  6:00 p.m. ET

RSVP

Qi Gong

May 28,  11:30 a.m. ET

RSVP

Art Therapy

June 3, 6:00 p.m. ET

RSVP

Forest Bathing

Jun 4,  6:00 p.m. ET

RSVP

Reflect & Recharge

Expressive Writing

June 10,  6:00 p.m. ET

RSVP

Yoga Fitness with Chair Assist

June 11, 11:30 a.m. ET

RSVP

Yoga Stretching for DIEP flap

June 11,  6:00 p.m. ET

RSVP

Restorative Yoga:

Unearthing Opportunities

June 17 ,  5:30 p.m. ET

RSVP

Más eventos en español

RSVP

Upcoming Events

1

Surviving Breast Cancer provides breast cancer support, events, and webinars at no cost to you! Whether you are looking to gain more knowledge on a particular topic or meet up with other breast cancer survivors, we have something for everyone. 

2

Our standing appointment on Thursdays is for all stages. We also host specific breakout groups once a month for specific stages and subtypes such as Metastatic breast cancer, and Inflammatory Breast Cancer, etc. 

3

The Book Club meets the first Sunday of every month at 11 am ET. You are welcome to join each month or pick and choose your month based on your availability and the book we are reading. 

4

Through art, writing, and other creative modalities, we hold the power to manage our stress, make sense of our now, and relax into moments of stillness. 

5

Free, monthly, online classes in restorative yoga, yoga for breast cancer, and Zumba. 

6

Después de un Diagnóstico

bottom of page