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I Know I'm Not The Only One Who Experiences Cancer Guilt

December 11th, 2017 |

by MaeganMolnar | Survivor: Breast Cancer    Connect

Guilt. It took awhile for me to be able to come up with a word that really described how I was feeling but once I did, it felt like everything became a little bit clearer. Guilt isn’t always a negative thing. In some circumstances guilt can make us partake in self examination and can fuel self improvement. I have read a lot about survivor's guilt and parental guilt in particular. I happened upon these while I was searching for "cancer guilt" - not guilt after you survive but the guilt that becomes your companion the day you’re diagnosed.

When I was searching for ways to combat the mental effects my cancer has had on me, I couldn’t find much on this topic, which was frustrating. My internal guilt manifests itself in small outbursts, tears, and bouts of anxiety and depression, all side effects that unfortunately impact those around me. I am tired of these feelings towards myself taking a toll on others.

Between work, my dog, my family, my faith, my husband, my friends, and myself, I was feeling guilt in all these areas of my life, and I know others can relate. In my effort to feel better and find ways to help others learn to forgive themselves when feeling guilty about something they cannot control, I stayed up one night coming up with a game plan. This is what I came up with.

1. Identify where your guilt comes from.

I began with listing where my guilt originated from and why. Next I wrote down how this guilt made me feel and how it manifested. After that I marked out the word “apologize” because let me tell you, I feel that family, friends, co-workers, and my husband Nick are sick of me apologizing. When I apologize to them for being a burden, they hate it and quickly tell me to stop being ridiculous. So if apologizing isn’t going to work, I have to come to terms with the fact that this guilt is self-inflicted. It is all in my head. I brainstormed about what I could do to counteract this because simply being positive wasn’t cutting it. That’s when I found this quote by Jack Kornfied:

"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete"


I work in a helping profession so 99% of my compassion is spent on others instead of practicing self care and putting some compassion aside for myself! Whether you’re a mama or dad struggling with parental guilt, a survivor who doesn’t know why they're still here, or you feel like you’re a bummer to everyone during cancer, do not automatically blame yourself. When you see the guilt but cannot locate the cause, show yourself some compassion. I consider compassion to be a fabulous mix of empathy, love, and forgiveness. Do we not all deserve this?

2. Set up small goals.

A couple of weeks ago I woke up in a bit of a rut because I didn’t have the energy to go to work or to do any work around the house. I was accomplishing absolutely nothing (people told me “you’re fighting cancer” which yes, I am, but I needed something I could do and see results) and I was feeling useless. The first thing I decided to do was to create small goals for myself. Right now my goal is to clean out our third room and make it into the office. I have had to be very patient with myself because it’s a mess and because I can only make small dents in it every once in awhile. You know what? It’s taking a long time but every time I do something small in that room I feel that it looks better and I am contributing to our home. Nick had a great idea to make me a list of small things to do around the house so that I could mark off things and feel like I was helping. It included things like fold the towels, move laundry from washer to dryer, and write 5 wedding thank you notes. It took me about two days to do 10 things but I did it! This was extremely helpful. Please remember to give yourself a break and to celebrate small things instead of dwelling on not being able to do big things.

3. Make a promise to yourself no matter how hard that may be.

While it’s hard to change your thinking and stay positive, sometimes it’s easier to make a promise to yourself or someone else to help hold you accountable. I decided that to make the ultimate promise to myself and my future husband, I needed to write it in my vows and say it in front of all of our loved ones. I was going to call myself out, my biggest fear, and I was going to do it in a way that would hold me accountable for life (also, Nick loves being able to call me out about breaking vows if I even get near mentioning it). Interestingly enough when I went back and read our vows, I noticed that we both mentioned Nick being my rock. This is so incredibly true. Even more today as we celebrate our two month anniversary!

I ended my little gameplan with a “allow yourself to heal!” reminder and I think this is appropriate for many of us, no matter what you’re healing from or what healing looks like to you. I'm thankful for those who allow me to be vulnerable and share some insight, and I hope you allow yourself to take time to show yourself some compassion.

How have you tackled guilt after cancer? Share your experience in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of author. Find more of her blogs on her personal site, NetflixAndChemo.

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MaeganMolnar's picture
I’m a newlywed, a social worker, and a wine lover. I currently live in Texas with my husband (Nick, AKA Husbae) and our dog, Wedge Antilles.