Has cancer made me selfish?

I know, no one likes to consider themselves as selfish, especially me! But my encounter with cancer has made me wonder. Other people are always my concern, and the joy I receive in my life has always come from doing things for others. However, when cancer struck, my world turned on it’s head. Instead of me being a part of my family focus, I became the entire focus. Every where I went, people wanted to know about what was happening to me.

Of course, I spent a long time in hospital, with chemotherapy, transplant and various complications, and I was the focus there too. Due to the complexities of my disease and treatment I required a lot of time and care from people. I was a very good giver, but a poor receiver of attention! Coming from a management background, I decided to see my illness as another project. But when I was at work I could fully focus on things, so I said to my wife when I went into my isolation unit for my stem cell transplant, that I was going to clear my head of all distractions, and focus on getting better.

In isolation I could focus, I knew I had to deal with the bad stuff, but I found that easier on my own.Am I selfish Obviously I had no outside life distractions as my wife was taking care of all that stuff. Unfortunately my ‘project,’ has lasted a lot longer than was hoped. A year has turned into seven now. What was abnormal for me has become normal, as my treatment continues. Unfortunately my health is still at the centre of everything in my life. The frequency of my treatment in recent years has changed our lives considerably. Seven years of continual treatment has taken it’s toll on me, both physically and emotionally.

Externally I am still the same person that everyone knows, with a few more battle scarred features, but internally is where the change is.
I have become emotionally exhausted. Even the most simple things in life, are beginning to feel like climbing a mountain. What used to be a pleasure is now becoming a chore, and I am finding that I no longer have time for people who are not entirely straight forward. Saying one thing but meaning something different. It seems this is much more widespread than I ever thought!

Of course, not only do these changes affect me, but also my loved ones, and friends. For so long now I have had to gear everything around my treatment and how I am feeling, it has become my new way of life. Most arrangements will have to be checked around me. What I am able to do or not, everything has to be fitted in around my treatment regime. This wasn’t how life was before. I was the happy go lucky guy, who would be partying and travelling as much as I could. Meeting new people and laughing at their constant attempts to impress.

If my health is not good, nothing else matters of course, so I really have to concentrate on that side of things. But I can’t help feeling that is selfish? Everyone else still has to run a major part of their life around me. I can feel myself slowly slipping from people’s social radar, something I don’t feel too upset about currently, but it’s not great for my wife who loves socialising. There are times when I just don’t feel up to it, which of course is understood by everyone, and we have learned to make adjustments. But I can’t help feeling like a ‘wet blanket,’ when it comes to socialising.

Has cancer made me selfish 1

It is very difficult to see life through anyone else’s eyes other than your own of course, but I can see that such an extreme change of character might make life difficult. No one says that and everyone is so polite, helping me feel comfortable in my new life, but I still feel very uncomfortable about things. A lot of people in my life are making sacrifices and adjustments for me. But it is their life too, and also deserve to live the life they want.

By this stage in our lives, my wife and I had planned to go travelling, and catch up with parts of the world we haven’t seen. Now a long weekend in Devon, looks like a major treat! We have accepted that this is how things are, but that doesn’t make me feel better about things. I can no longer drink alcohol much, can’t taste or smell, and am not allowed to sit in the sun. Not exactly the perfect holiday companion! Any break away, has to be organised around me. If I’m honest, it is why I prefer to stay at home, where I am most comfortable. But isn’t that selfish?

After seven years, we have managed to find a compromise, where my wife goes out often with her friends, and I am at home writing or out at hospital, but it is not how we envisaged leading our life. We are grateful to still have the time, and that I am still alive, but I can’t help feeling selfish. Yes, I have lost a lot, both physically and mentally, but so has Mrs L. She handles that situation must better than I could if roles were reversed.

Along my own personal journey, I have lost many friends to this awful disease. I have to admit to thinking frequently, when I am moaning about my life, they no longer have theirs, and again question if I am being selfish. It certainly feels like that at times!

How do you feel about your life after diagnosis?  Have you accepted things? Do you feel selfish or guilty like me? I ‘d love to hear your experience.



  1. Hi Ronny. Thx for your comments. I try to write thought provoking pieces, to open up a discussion through social media. It helps me understand other people’s perspective on things, so when I am involved in decision making processes, I have some evidence, to add credibility, to my own experiences.

    This medium is fabulous for sharing, and is always helpful, for others to see different opinions. I am looking to try and improve things in the support area for people affected by cancer, so thanks for sharing your thoughts, and my work. Good luck with your own situation too, Chris

  2. Hi. I don’t have cancer and I’m sorry that you do. My life changed when my Mom got Alzheimers, after having Ovarialn cancer. She shlowly lost her mind. It took about 10 years for the disease to reach it’s peak and kill her. I was her nurse 24/7. I lost friends, family and my husband decided to cheat on me because I was so consumed with grief and taking care of Mom.

    I don’t have cancer. I can go out in the sun. But I understand where you are coming from, somehow. I am not the same person now as I was before all of this. You are not selfish. You got a bad disease. You are fighting it everyday and it has affected everyone you love.

    Put me on your email blog list. You gotta keep fighting dude. You have a lot of things to live for. It’s not what you had planned. Nothing ever is. Life is a crap shoot, but we have to still be good people. Get angry. Sure. But deal with it.

    I care.

    • Hi Cathi

      Firstly thank you for sharing your very personal story here. We can all learn so much from each other, which Is why I write this blog. It seems that several of your own experiences were similar to what can happen for some people affected by cancer.

      Your encouragement is much appreciated, and I have tried to use my negative experience, positively by sharing with others. I have been very lucky, and been given some extra time. I have lost a lot, but am still here determined to help others.

      Thank you so much for your support, and sharing my blog! I have added you to the email list as you requested. I hope life treats you kindly too, Chris

  3. Chris,

    There are so many topics in this post! I thought I’d share some thoughts on selfishness when it comes to dealing with cancer.

    I’ve definitely become “selfish” but I see it as being self care. I’ve stopped going over half the distance for everyone. These days, out of necessity, I have a new paradigm: What’s in it for me? For years, I never asked that question, and it’s about time that I did!

    I’m selfish about choosing quality food; I’m selfish about making time to meditate; I’m selfish about getting rid of low energy, negative people in my life; I’m selfish about my happiness and well being.

    For me, the turning point in becoming more oriented towards self care was during the first round of chemo. Rituxan turned out to be my personal drug from hell. Every joint in my body swelled. I was in constant, excruciating pain. It was simply unbelievable.

    I asked a friend to stay over after the Rituxan infusion on the second day of chemo and just be available if I needed help. At some point during the night, I woke up, sick and in terrible pain. I was so ill I was unable to crawl from one bedroom to another to get help. I screamed as loud as I could, but at the other end of the house my “friend” was snoring happily away. (This was just the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back in this particular situation. I needed some empathy and care and if it wasn’t forthcoming, this person did not belong in my life.)

    Perhaps this is a selfish story, but I really needed help (and I am not someone that EVER asks for help). The fact that I was unable to even crawl from one bedroom to another says it all.

    That was my turning point in becoming selfish. I realized that it was up to me to look out for my health and well being and I unabashedly put myself first. I am, and remain, a very generous person, but I’ve also become much more discerning (judgmental?) about situations and people as well. I wish I had done this years ago.

    Cancer requires self care and I personally think it needs to be a priority for everyone touched by this terrible disease, whether we have cancer or not. Caregivers, family members and friends are all impacted. Self care, for each of us, is simply survival as our lives are turned inside out by the unexpected.

    • Thanks for sharing that incredible experience Pat! I know it certainly resonates with me, and will with many of my readers.

      There are so many aspects of your story, that are similar to my own, and particularly, the “what’s in it for me?” I have spent a long time giving time to large organisations to help with projects. From most, very little comes back, in terms of answers and results, only requests for more help! When I ask them to share my work I hit a brick wall, there is so little appetite for collaboration from the health profession in general. So “no thanks,” gets used more often!

      Unfortunately, cancer does dictate my life, but the people who really matter, do understand, and are very supportive. Thanks for sharing your vast experience Pat, we all have a lot we can learn from you. Chris

  4. “What used to be a pleasure is now becoming a chore, and I am finding that I no longer have time for people” I find that too and I haven’t had to have chemo. My treatment is less intrusive but very tiring so I find I run out of spoons very quickly. I save them mostly for family. Live narrows.

    • Vicky, your expression of life narrows, is a great description of what seems to be happening. I do my very best, as I am involved with many things but I find it both mentally and physically draining.

      Like you, I seem to be learning how to conserve my energy for the things that really matter! My best to you as always, Chris

  5. I just started reading your blog and find it very interesting.
    I was diagnosed 2 years ago with stage 4 lung cancer.
    I cannot work or drive.
    I feel trapped in my own home, unable to lead a normal life because I have to depend on others for everything! My 7 year old misses out on bday parties if I cant find someone to take us, I miss out on some school activities because of the same. My husband carries the heaviest load working and worrying, I assume, if today will lead to a tomorrow.

    I dont think its a matter of having become selfish or selfless. Its something else that only someone with cancer understands.

    • Hi Tatiana. I’m so pleased that you are enjoying the blog. So sorry to hear about your personal situation, which sounds very difficult.

      The things that you have talked about here are exactly the things I feel too. You are correct when you say that only someone who has experienced it can truly understand. However this makes life very difficult for our loved ones too.

      It is however the very reason I write this blog, so that the many people like you and I, can share experiences and help each other try and make sense of things.

      I wish you and your family well as you deal with your issues together, and look forward to welcoming you back to the blog. Chris

  6. Ive read many of your blogs but today felt compelled to write a reply. I found your blog extremely interesting, firstly as I had not considered the possibility of becoming selfish and secondly just how much I could relate too. Cancer unfortunately, due to the severity of the illness demands that you change your life style. It demands appointments and treatments and zaps your energy beyond any conceivable definition. Life changes very dramatically and your values change and along side this an awareness for, and lack of tolerance for poor behavior grows. I have discovered who is genuine and true friends stay. Chris I don’t think it is selfish, it’s not arrived at by choice. You have to focus on yourself which I’d personally never done before…it feels alien but in the same breath is essential for our survival. If we were to carry on living as we were, the chances are we wouldn’t be here today. Be kind to yourself. You are kind and inspiring to others through your personal journey and by sharing your story.
    I’ve just celebrated my five year mile stone….boy what a journey….its good to be alive and to value and be grateful for life every day.
    Best wishes to you Chris

  7. Your above comments have summed things up quite beautifully Patricia! Firstly I’m so pleased that you are enjoying the blog, and thank you so much for sharing your own experiences, which are invaluable to the readers.

    You have captured the piece so well, and I feel a little more comfortable having heard many views like your own. I also have found living this way to be essential to survival, and I guess that having got so far like you, it must be right. However it still feels very alien to me, as you can probably tell!

    Like you, I have also had an incredible journey, and celebrate every day. Thank you so much for providing your valuable comments, and I look forward to welcoming you again soon. I wish you well on your own journey. Chris

  8. Well, I do not have cancer, but over years I realized that we should be selfish to survive. You are surviving cancer, be selfish as long as you wish. Just win the battle against cancer..

  9. Thanks so much for your comments, which are much appreciated. I think I have realised that although it is not naturally my way, these are exceptional circumstances, so I will have to live my life with some degree of selfishness.

    I appreciate you taking the time to write these comments and hope to welcome you back to the site soon. Chris

  10. Chris yes I understand the selfish feeling and the deepening awareness of the impact on Mrs L. As my new cancer journey unfolds the impact that this is having on Mr H is profound. Like you, invites out as a couple have virtually dried up apart from a few core, but interestingly newly developed friendships. I realise that some of my friends just can’t cope with my illness, despite the fact that I am usually good fun to be with. I too always put everyone before me but no longer and I think that is why some friends have withdrawn as I gave so much of me. I am happy to be more selfish! But am saddened about the way Mr H is having to adapt his future to fit in with me! We too planned to travel but a weekend away bird watching soon is as good as it gets at the moment.
    My advice to you is be good to you first and foremost as only then can you offer anything to Mrs L and stalwart friends! X

  11. Hi Dawn. Apologies for the delay but I have been away for a few days. Everything you talk about above mirrors my own experience and feelings. I have come to the same conclusion, which is that although it goes against my normal principles, I just have to put myself first.

    Mrs L and friends understand now, but like you I can’t really change the way I feel about things. Thanks much for sharing your experiences, and as you know you can make more sense of things when you know others are feeling the same way.

    I wish you both well, Chris

  12. I don’t think that the word selfish could ever be used when someone has an illness. Selfishness to me means that the person has made the decision for their own actions ( if at all that makes sense ).

    • Makes perfect sense Nikki! I agree with you totally, but emotionally it is very hard to understand how you move quickly from a giver to a taker, even if it is necessary. It’s another impact of cancer that people find hard to understand. I hope life is treating you kindly xxx

    • Tu Hayley! There are so many issues around #cancer that we don’t understand. Important to know u r not the only one, which is why I write

  13. Really interesting article, Chris. I’ve linked to it on my Facebook page and posted my own thoughts on this kind of thing there as follows:
    I’ve thought carefully about posting this… but I think on balance this is something that should be said… even if it’s not as amusing as some may wish…
    The article I’ve linked to above struck a chord with me (even though I’m not sure I agree with every point Chris makes), after my two years of cancer diagnosis, treatment, rehab and now more diagnosis of a potentially extremely rare tumour in my spleen.
    Part two of an old maxim I keep trying (and failing) to live by is to love others as I love myself…. It’s hard on two fronts. For some of us it’s not easy to love ourselves, and there are times when any love has to equate to a brave, but carefully delivered, “tough love”.
    I used to lend some friends my small but lovely holiday home-from-home, but occasionally it was left in a state – things like cutlery left in the draw with egg caked on it, and drying tea-towels on radiators so the place was really humid, encouraging mould growth. I’d struggle to deliver the tough love of setting boundaries that would sustain the friendships, instead slinking away to avoid further requests to borrow the place.
    At the moment we’re just lending it to next of kin, as I just don’t feel able to take the potential infection risks presented by sharing, however well friends clean up after themselves. If I were to give away all I possess (including my body for medical research – they seem to want my spleen, if nothing else…) and I did it without love, it’d do me no good whatever…. If all we do is just walk away without a murmur as “friends” behave as hurtfully as primary school children, we do neither them nor ourselves any favours.
    Last Saturday I saw one of the women who’d borrowed my cottage a few times when her family had its own challenges. I’d e-mailed her to say I’d got another new tumour (potentially secondaries) and when she saw me and asked if I was ok I’d repeated the message. She said I should be grateful because last time she’d seen me I was in a wheelchair, and then went off to find herself a cup of tea. I chose not to retaliate verbally and, among other emotions, felt glad I’d stopped lending out my holiday home. I’ve now taken a step through an appropriate “community leader” to try and engender a more sensitive approach to cancer in our shared community… Ha, ha, ha…
    I’ve known for some time that, to fulfil the ancient maxim on love, I have to love myself enough to protect my welfare from being damaged by others – both in terms of infection risk and morale… It’s not much love to give others if it equates to allowing yourself to be trashed physically or psychologically, even if unintentionally.
    So, in my mind, Chris (who wrote the article I’ve linked to above) shouldn’t be too hard on himself. There’s not much wrong with the right amount of “selfishness”…
    Much love – LLxx

    • So Lovely to hear from you LL! Thank you for sharing such powerful examples of what I am talking about. I see examples like that frequently and people can be very inconsiderate. You are so right about loving yourself enough. Over the years I have become a great believer in Karma, and I try to ‘give out’ wherever I go. It come back to me tenfold and I am delighted to be able to help others.

      I have found a new way of living now and have got used to it. It is difficult to accept that my unreliable health makes me different to most, but it is what it is!

      So sorry to hear about the tricky times you are having and I hope things progress. It was a real pleasure to meet you and please keep in touch, Chris xxx

  14. Hi Chris,

    Your post is very interesting I too was diagnosed with cancer last year. It was breast cancer and hopefully appears to be early stage. But I have had radiation and surgery the radiation has made me tired. The Medication they have given me to stop my body producing oestrogen has made me have headaches, hot flushes, bowel issues and a low mood not great but hopefully they will help me to get better. It has all happened during the Covid pandemic which has made life very stressful. As I am a teacher because I have had a shielding letter I have not been able to go back to work yet which is quite frustrating and I am worried the longer this goes on the harder it is going to be for me to back to anything normal again.

    I too feel I am being selfish and am really resenting my 84 year old father who has always been controlling and selfish. I lost my Mum who was lovely in 2006 to the same illness except after 10 years her cancer spread to her bones. I have all this to worry about but my Dad does not sympathize it is all about him. He makes nasty comments to me and says untrue and horrible things to my daughter about me. My daughter does not go to see him anymore. Like you I am thinking of myself now and putting my needs first and not his for the first time. My brother is my main worry he is lovely and is dealing more with my Dad now. But unfortunately my Dad treats him quite badly and is very bossy and rude.

    Take care and look after yourself, lots of love.

    Bridget, x

    • Hi Bridget,

      Thank you so much for sharing your own very personal cancer experiences. Those experiences are difficult enough without being in the middle of Covid! Then of course the challenges with your work.

      So sorry to hear the issue of your father too. It sounds like he has created many problems for the family over time?

      Of course we all have personal challenges to deal with and then cancer comes along. My experience was that it was almost impossible to focus on both. Logic told me that if I didn’t concentrate on me for a while to try and improve my health, nothing else would matter. Any reasonable person would understand that.

      In this instance you should not feel selfish at all, as it seems you have spent most of your time giving to others. Including through your work.

      I wish you well through these challenging times, and please feel free to get in touch again and let me know how things are going. Thanks for your kind words, Chris

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