PUBLISHED ON: 5 November 2019

When Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer, she felt like she would be a burden to her loved ones. She shares how she managed her feelings of guilt around her diagnosis.  

Susan during treatment

I thought my cancer made me a burden

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, after the initial shock, my next thought was that I was suddenly going to become a burden on my husband.  

I was running my own interior design company, living a life very independently and suddenly everything came crashing down. I was going to have to have chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and radiotherapy, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my life as it was.  

Working on a building site and 12-hour days were not conducive to undergoing the treatment that was ahead for me.  

I didn’t want to cause my family stress 

Marriage vows say, ‘in sickness and in health’, but everyone is thinking more along the lines of a broken leg or a couple of weeks off work, while your other half steps up. I felt terribly guilty.  

I must add that my husband never once made me feel that way. He was extremely supportive and patient but, in my mind, I was a dreadful burden and added stress to his life that he didn’t need.  

I felt the same when I was telling my mother. I didn’t tell her for weeks because I kept thinking, ‘If I just get through the first few treatments, I’ll be less of a burden’, and I could make light of it – as much as you can when you’ve just been told you have cancer.   
 
She was furious when she found out I’d kept it from her. She lives in Ireland and I’m in London, but as far as I was concerned by keeping her in the dark, I was taking away stress she didn’t need.  

Susan and her husband

Other people's comments added to the guilt  

The guilt was added to by people around me who would make comments like, 'That must be really hard for your husband' and 'Aren’t you lucky that he’s paying for you now.'  

He even had a Christmas card from someone at work which said, 'Thank you for everything this year. You have amazing patience with everything you have to deal with at home.' It wasn’t just my own emotions that made me feel guilty. Other people were saying it too.

When my mother told her friend, the friend commented, 'That’s all you need now.' That really hurt me. I already felt so much guilt and stress for my diagnosis. I felt like my body had betrayed me and I’d let everyone down.  

I know that I haven't done anything wrong

It’s taken me a long time and counselling to realise that I didn’t do anything wrong. Those guilty feelings are irrational, but that didn’t stop me feeling them at the time. 

I had people telling me that I caused my own cancer, interrogating me on my diet, my lifestyle, my stress levels. The guilt mounted up on all sides. They wanted to find a reason to blame me. This left me looking for reasons to blame myself also.  

I've allowed myself to ask for help

It has taken time to get over those feelings of guilt. I’ve had to allow myself to ask the people around me for help when I’m struggling with side effects like fatigue. It’s hard not to feel like a burden still, but I’m getting there.  

You can follow Susan on her blog or Instagram. Her book is available to buy online.  

A breast cancer diagnosis can affect your emotions. We can offer support on coping emotionally.

Coping emotionally