Finding Stability

Combating the Social Effects of Cancer: How to Maintain Your Social Life During Chemo

Cancer treatment doesn't mean your social life gets put on hold. Make sure your friends and family know about your specific needs and your limitations so their expectations are clear and they can support you rather than adding unnecessary pressure.

A cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean your social life has to suffer. There are ways to buffer against the social effects of cancer and still live it up with your friends. According to the Mayo Clinic, social connections can be immensely helpful in maintaining quality of life as you deal with cancer treatment. The key is making sure you and your crew know the best way to handle your health situation.

Communicate With Everybody

Doctors generally advise patients to remain active and continue to participate in activities you enjoy, to the extent that you can. Ask your oncologist about specific social activities so she can help identify any precautions to take while engaging in these interests. For instance, if you enjoy gardening, your doctor may request you wear gloves or even ask that you refrain from that activity for a little while. If that’s the case, invite some friends to help tend your garden, and bring a chair out to sit outside and chat while they work.

Communication with your friends and family is an important part of overcoming the social effects of cancer, too. Let them know what you’re going through. Some treatment plans may require temporary isolation, as chemotherapy compromises your immune system. Ask friends to cancel if they come down with a cold, and make sure they’re prepared to let you back out of plans if you have an unexpected bad day. The best results come when the entire group is willing to be flexible, and open to changing plans at the last minute when necessary.

Figure Out Your Rhythm

While each person responds differently to cancer treatments, your doctor can help you get an idea of which days you can expect to be more difficult. Chemotherapy and radiation can both result in fatigue that comes and goes. Learning to anticipate and accommodate this fluctuating energy level is a challenging aspect of sustaining a social life. Once you have a better understanding of the rhythms your body goes through, you’ll be better able to schedule your social activities to match your energy level.

Keep track of your rhythms and try to plan big events, like anniversary celebrations or parties, around what you anticipate will be a good day. For more vigorous activities, like camping and hiking, you might consider the days at the end of one of your chemo cycles, such as the three days before your next infusion, or in the early stages of radiation therapy. Of course, as you move through the treatments, the cycle may change a bit. Your ability to adjust and adapt to these changes as you go will help you get the most out of your social time.

Take the Necessary Precautions

You may need a nap before going out, and remember to eat healthy meals that nourish your body. As always, stay hydrated, and invest in a reusable water bottle to bring out with you. As well, if a night at a bar or a nice steak dinner is on your agenda, you may worry about alcohol affecting your treatment. While alcohol consumption isn’t specifically restricted, it could aggravate your mouth sores or nausea, and may clash with your treatment drugs, so it’s best to talk it out with your doctor first, according to the American Cancer Society.

You will find you can continue to participate in many of the same activities you enjoyed before you started treatment, and you don’t have to put a pause on your entire social life. Pay attention to your needs, and take good care of your body. And enjoy a night out or two!

An important part of a fulfilling social life during cancer treatment is getting the right support. Your medical team and your loved ones can help you with that.

Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley