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Ines Ines, transplant recipient

You may experience many emotions as you recover from transplant or care for someone recovering from transplant. While there is much to celebrate, there are also many changes in your life that may lead to feelings that you might not have expected, like grief and loss.

You may feel that you’ve lost opportunities or dreams for your future. Maybe you’re grieving how your relationships have changed. Or maybe you feel a loss of your identity since your life took a turn you didn’t expect. No matter the cause of your feelings, know that having feelings of grief and loss are normal. And coping with grief and loss is another stage in your recovery.

There is no single best way to work through these feelings. You may choose to cope in a different way than others. An important first step is to notice and acknowledge your feelings. Then, make a plan to work through them in a healthy way that works best for you. Not talking about your feelings can make it worse. Ignoring feelings of grief and loss can make them last longer and affect your physical and emotional health. 

Recognize the symptoms of grief

The first step in healing is to recognize the symptoms of grief. Everyone experiences it in a different way. These symptoms can be emotional, physical, social or spiritual. They can include:

  • Feeling sad, angry, guilty or irritable
  • Crying
  • Sleeping a lot or very little
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling alone or detached from others
  • Questioning your faith or personal beliefs

The Be The Match Patient Support Center offers free counseling services. We provide one-on-one support by phone to help you and your loved ones cope with transplant and recovery.

CALL: 1 (888) 999-6743
Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Central Time

All of our programs and resources are free.

Llame al: 1 (888) 999-6743
De lunes a viernes, de 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Horario central)

Work through your grief

“With transplant, so many things change, and some parts of life, like hobbies or relationships, are lost. While grieving is a healthy part of the BMT process, friends and family may find it uncomfortable to accept or witness your grief. They may encourage you to “be grateful for your new chance at life” instead of accepting this important emotional process.”
- Olivia Eusden, MSW, LICSW, BMT Social Worker in the Be The Match Patient Support Center

You might find it helpful to:

  • Express your grief. For example, talk through your emotions with someone you trust, write about your feelings in a journal, take time to cry or express your feelings through art.
  • Identify emotional triggers like key dates, activities or places and make plans to cope with them.
  • Commit to taking care of yourself by being healthy and active.
  • Focus on new, or renewed relationships that nurture and support you.
  • Work towards accepting your experience and reframing your goals for the future.
  • Talk to family, friends, your faith community or a professional grief counselor to help you find ways to cope.

Understanding survivor’s guilt

When first diagnosed, many patients ask, “why me?” Many survivors ask themselves the same question. They grieve the loss of people they came to know, who died during their treatment journey. This can lead to difficult and complex emotions often described as “survivor’s guilt.”

Survivor’s guilt can affect your physical and emotional health, relationships, your ability to work and move forward in your life. It can prevent you from feeling truly happy, or may make you feel worse after enjoying simple pleasures.

Some survivors find it helpful to think in terms of honoring the memory of those they have lost by living as fully and joyfully as they can. But it’s not always easy to do. 

Survivor’s guilt may also affect people around you, if they also feel guilty about experiencing joy or sharing their experience with you.

If you or a loved one think you need help dealing with grief or survivor’s guilt, talk to your transplant center social worker to find out what resources are available to you.

“Your life will be affected forever in both positive and negative ways. Focus on the things you can do instead of your limitations.”
- Evelyn, transplant recipient