Maintaining Friendships During Cancer

Back in 2007 I was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare form of mesothelioma located in the stomach lining that is caused by asbestos exposure. Not only was I a 21-year-old who had dropped out of college, I was a new mom as well. I’ve always had a friendly and outgoing personality, so making friends has always come easy for me. After I was diagnosed with cancer, I initially isolated myself and kept my circle tight with just family members.

Two Sides to a story:

Here’s a viewpoint of my thought process at the time and why I chose to distance myself from my friends:

  • I was embarrassed to even tell others I had cancer.
  • Feelings of anger because I had cancer, and they didn’t.
  • Comparing their lives to mine.
  • I thought they would look at me differently.
  • Be labeled as the “sick” friend.
  • Felt as if they couldn’t relate.

On the flip side, what were my friends thinking?

  • Afraid they would say something wrong.
  • Don’t know what to say at all.
  • May think you don’t feel like talking.
  • Feel guilty because you have cancer.
  • Scared to see you look different than what they are used to.

I longed for friends that I could talk to, vent to, and even just laugh with. One who I could be myself with and who got me! Learning from my mistakes, I became aware of what true friendship was and why finding your tribe is important, even amid hard times. Being diagnosed with cancer is such a challenge. So many overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness, helplessness, and anxiety run through your mind. Going through this alone isn’t beneficial to your healing.

Who’s your tribe?

One thing to point out is that finding your tribe is key. Your tribe can be friends you’re close to, someone you grew up with or even a coworker. Friends can be family members, neighbors, or even someone from church. From my experience, a friend is someone who genuinely loves you, a person you can count on, someone who listens to you and gives you sound advice. These are the people you want in your tribe. A tribe is more to me than just cancer survivors who can relate. Yes, relatability is good, but you need a good balance. This can best be described as a sense of community mixed with people who love you, will help you, give you sound advice, and want the best for you, as well as those who can relate to you too! 

My husband, who at the time was my boyfriend, was and still is my friend. He’s not only my husband, but he’s my best friend. As a matter of fact, we got married months after I was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Talk about a true friend and what love is all about. 16 years and four children later, were still together! Your tribe doesn’t need to be huge! It’s the relationships that matter, not how many friends you have.

Things To Remember:

  • Keep an open mind- your cancer diagnosis may be challenging for your friends as well.
  • You oversee the information about your health. You decide what you want them to know, and vice versa.
  • Be open and honest- tell them how you feel, if you need their support let them know. Being open with your friends gives them a chance to support you.
  • Invite them over to chat and do activities that you have the energy to do

Having cancer will impact your friendships. A lot of these changes will be more positive ones. This journey may create new friends, bring you closer to your old friends, and some may even fade away. Focus on the quality of friendships instead of the quantity.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

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