Many of us with breast cancer become close friends with others that we meet in support groups, online forums, and through friends. Sadly, some of them pass away, leaving us with grief and, sometimes, survivor’s guilt.

Survivor’s guilt is real and we all experience it in different ways. For some it is internalized with the stark reality that cancer can take what is most precious to us. It’s a sobering reminder each time we are faced with the next line of treatment. We see ourselves in others and try to make sense of what that means not only for the people we’ve lost and their loved ones, but what will that mean for me? My loved ones? My family?

I have lost two friends to breast cancer since being diagnosed four years ago. Both were lovely women doing wonderful things in the world and were gone too soon. My heart broke both times.

I did what I would want them to do if our roles were reversed: I dedicated myself even more to living my own life to the absolute fullest. I think being alive is such a gift, and that those who pass wish for us to make the most of every moment we are here, through everything we experience.

This brings me to what I think happens to us and our loved ones when we transition from this life.

When I was ten years old, I caught a glimpse of “the other side” when I almost died touching a neon motel sign. While electricity was coursing through my little body, I was momentarily a completely different being, asking the other beings in a sort of open space between what seemed like here and ‘heaven,’ “Is it time for me to come back already?” And their clear answer was, “Oops! Nope! Too soon!” I could see a light place behind them, but they were hustling me back to my body. The sign shattered and I woke up in the grass – alive, but with a memory I’ll never forget.

Regardless of religious or spiritual affiliation, I believe the people who have passed before us are okay, safe, and watching over us. They can be with us in ways they couldn’t be when they were here with us. They are well and they wish us well.

I’ve found that paying homage to the friends we lose to breast cancer can help make sense of the often-intense emotion of survivor’s guilt.  Here are some ideas you might try if you’d like to honor your late friends in a special way:

  • Light candles in their honor. I do this in memory of my mom, using a pretty candle holder she used to love.
  • Pray/speak to them on a regular basis.
  • If you keep an altar of any kind for meditation or prayer, add something of theirs or something that represents them, like a photo or personal item.
  • Speak to them in nature.
  • Enjoy their favorite food.
  • Refer to them often in your gratitude journal, if you keep one.
  • Wish them well in their new form/place.
  • Do volunteer work for or make a donation to a cause that mattered to them.
  • Do something loving for their families, particularly around days that might be hard, like their birthdays, the holidays, or the anniversary of their passing.
  • Say their name and speak of them often.

It is our responsibility to make sure we do what we came here to do, even if we are still figuring out our purpose: Learn, grow, love and experience challenges the great human experience provides us.

I do my best to live this way and to send gratitude and love to the people who pass. That’s how I manage survivor’s guilt.

I’d love to hear how this resonates with you; please let me know in the comments.


Do you need kind, compassionate support to bounce back from a negative experience? If so, then get in touch with me now, and let’s make the most of your precious time, energy and love. 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Kristen Carter

Kristen Carter, Certified coach, author, and breast cancer survivor. More

Self-Love Comes First

Self-Love Comes First

Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful holiday if you’re in a relationship with someone you care for (and who cares for you). But whether you’re in such a partnership or not, there is one person you should love above all others: yourself. “What??” you might ask. “What...

Living Without Regrets

Living Without Regrets

“I wish I’d lived a life true to myself rather than the one others expected of me.” That was the number-one regret expressed by dying people cared for by Australian palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, who worked with hospice patients for almost ten years and who wrote...

Dealing With Breast Cancer-related Weight Gain

Dealing With Breast Cancer-related Weight Gain

As if having breast cancer isn’t bad enough, many women find that they put on unwanted pounds due to the specific treatment they’re on and/or feeling too tired to exercise the way they used to. I am not a metabolism expert but did some research and found that the...

Taming “Scanxiety”

Taming “Scanxiety”

In the same way we can imagine beautiful futures like a cure for cancer and watching our grandchildren thrive, we can imagine the most awful futures: disease progression, painful treatment, devastating side effects, dying. Imagination is a uniquely human capacity,...

A SIMPLE Framework for Life

A SIMPLE Framework for Life

It’s completely normal to feel disoriented and detached from our old lives and original selves after anything as life-altering as a breast cancer diagnosis. It’s like we’ve been picked up in a personal tidal wave, tossed and tumbled, and washed up on a new shore,...

Get through this with self-love, a clear focus on what matters most to you, and help from someone who's been there.

Explore what kind, compassionate support can feel like with a no-obligation conversation with me by phone or by Zoom.