Feelings of guilt are one of the many ways that having cancer can have an impact on your mental health. Upon diagnosis, in a state of fear and shock, many of us naturally question ourselves. What did I do to make this happen? Worse still, you see others searching your face to figure out the same. What did she do to cause this? They are of course looking for reasons why it won’t happen to them. We have probably all done the same at some point, until it did happen to us.
In reality getting cancer was completely out of our control. If there was a known “reason” we’d all just stop doing it and there’d be no cancer left. But feelings of responsibility for what is happening to us and our loved ones can run deeper than logic.
Personally most of my cancer guilt was felt for my baby daughter and my husband. I grew up with a sick Mother. It affects me deeply to this day, and I loathed to think that my daughter would experience the same. I felt this overwhelming need to be “normal” for her and my husband. To make sure it affected their lives as little as possible. In a strange way, I think that the determination to achieve that is what drove me through the process. Of course I needed a lot of therapy afterwards to deal with my surpressed feelings, so I wouldn’t recommend it!
The following is a guest post about cancer guilt by Amy Caldwell. Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. She has since then has trained in NLP (neuro linguistic programming) and become a fully qualified life coach. Her passion is to help others conquer the trauma and anxiety associated with life after cancer. Check out her blog “Amy Caldwell, the cancer coach.”
“Stop the cancer guilt.”
As if we aren’t already under an awful lot of stress and anxiety throughout our cancer journey, many of us have this almost uncontrollable feeling of guilt.
Its a strange thing, because actually, we have nothing to be guilty for, but something inside us makes us believe that we do!
So why do we feel this way?
Well, firstly and this is key – you are NOT to blame for your cancer. You cant control the way that your body behaves, and whilst we should always look after our bodies in terms of exercise, diet and managing stress, – some things are just out of our control.
I never forget on the day that I was diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the nurses decided to try and make me ‘feel better’, by reeling off a load of things that might have contributed to getting it!.. I listened in horror, still trying to process the news, while she went through a number of things that she felt could have attributed to my cancer, and led me to be sat in that chair that day! … processed meats, alcohol, being too stressed… ‘wow’ I thought… ‘its all my fault?!’…
We also carry guilt for our loved ones, our families and friends, because we can feel like we are putting them through so much worry and upset. We want to be able to stop it, for them to not be feeling sad or worried about us, and that’s when we can start to suppress our emotions for the risk of hurting them even further. We hold back because we feel guilty.
Again, this is totally normal, and another really common reaction in this journey, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things that you can do to stop the guilt.
What can we do about it?
Firstly and most importantly – you need to be kind to yourself. Forget about anyone else for a moment, forget about their emotions for just a second, and I will tell you why – because you have enough going on! You cant be there for everyone. Cancer is tough on everyone, even the people who aren’t directly affected themselves.
So, next time you find yourself with those feelings of guilt – whether its because you are putting blame on yourself, or because you are trying to protect your loved ones – remember – YOU come first. You have hit a bump in the road. Its ok. You have got this. You just concentrate and focus on you. For the more you add these unwanted feelings of guilt to the mix, the more that your mind and body has to cope with.
Be kind to yourself.
A word from me (Mumming After Cancer!)
As Amy highlights, it’s imperative to focus on yourself during such an arduous time. It might feel impossible to do so, especially if you have young children or dependents. But just remember you can’t pour from an empty cup. Put your own gas mask on first and then you can help everyone else.
Now, 4 years out from my diagnosis, I have figured out some healthy and sustainable ways of dealing with the complicated mental fallout from having cancer. Take a look at the articles below for more.
- Radical acceptance for coping with breast cancer and fear of recurrence.
- My lifestyle choices since having breast cancer.
- How to deal with the fear of recurrence.
- PTSD after breast cancer.
How has cancer guilt affected you? If you’d like to share your experience, comment below or head over to the Your Story sign up!