Coping With Emotions

How to Handle Cancer Guilt When You Feel You Caused Your Diagnosis

Don't let cancer guilt about what caused your diagnosis distract from your recovery. Use these tips to let go of the shame and focus on your health and treatment.

Getting a cancer diagnosis and going through the treatment is difficult emotionally. Add on cancer guilt, and the weight of dealing with cancer gets much heavier. Scientific studies have shown that certain lifestyle habits can increase a person’s risk for developing cancer, whether it’s smoking, sunbathing, stress, poor diet or alcohol consumption. There’s no shortage of ways people can attribute their habits or lifestyle to health issues like cancer, and the crushing thought that you may have caused this can be embarrassing and overwhelming for you.

But cancer guilt doesn’t change the diagnosis, and it doesn’t help you get better mentally or physically. Letting it take hold is like letting a rock weigh you down in water. Feelings of guilt are unfortunate but common with a cancer diagnosis, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Here are some ways to overcome these thoughts so you can then reduce your stress levels and anxiety about it and focus on treatment.

Letting Go

There’s no way to know what specifically causes a person’s cancer. Even if lifestyle was a factor, it’s time to move on and let go of the negative feelings. Try using a meditation exercise to visualize getting rid of the bad feelings. A study recently published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences suggests that mindfulness meditation positively affects your overall health and immune system. Imagine taking the cancer guilt and dropping it off a cliff, watching it fall into the abyss. Or think of it as a soccer ball, and visualize yourself kicking the ball as hard as you can, watching it sail into the distance. Feel that sense of relief and lightness as you let it go.

Focus on the Positive

Using an “attitude of gratitude,” take stock of the good things in your life. That may include your family and friends, the beautiful sunny day, a supportive medical staff or a television show you enjoy. Some people find satisfaction in writing down several things they’re grateful for each day. Keeping them in a journal makes them happier and more positive. You can also put a whiteboard on your fridge and write them down each morning as you get ready for the day. As well, try something new and creative like art therapy, to help focus positively on your recovery.

Reverse Past Lifestyle Habits

Use the cancer diagnosis as motivation to improve your lifestyle. Take up exercising, like walking in the park or swimming laps. Try some new foods, including fruits you usually skip over at the produce section or at the farmer’s market. Cut down on processed foods, especially those high in sugar, fat and salt. For some ideas on how to improve your health, schedule an appointment with a nutritionist or trainer, who can suggest personalized lifestyle improvements that are easy to implement.

Support Groups

It’s helpful to talk with others about what you’re going through. Whether you choose a support group or visit with a therapist individually, sharing your feelings and thoughts can help. Hearing other people’s stories can make you think about your own concerns in a different way, sometimes putting them in perspective.

It’s not easy to fight cancer, especially with feelings of cancer guilt hanging over you. But focusing on how you can improve your healing process and noting the good things in your life will make a measurable difference.

The best way to avoid feelings of guilt regarding cancer is to keep up on your health and prevention techniques.

Learn More
Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Deborah Abrams Kaplan