Coping With Emotions

Dealing With Cancer and Disappearing Friends

Friendships are always changing, and the addition of a cancer diagnosis can make them extra tricky. Knowing when to ask for support and when to cut out toxic friends can alleviate some stress during treatment.

While dealing with cancer treatment, you may find yourself contending with an unexpected side effect: disappearing friendships or otherwise changing relationships. You finally worked up the courage to tell your friends, and maybe even post on Facebook about your diagnosis. But after you read through the comments of love and support, you can’t find any response from some of your closest confidants. No text messages, no phone calls. Where did they go? Unfortunately, it can be common for people who have limited experience with cancer or who have a past with cancer, to simply go off the grid while they process the news about your diagnosis

Friendships evolve, and the addition of a cancer diagnosis can make them trickier. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with cancer and vanishing friends.

Why Are They Disengaged?

Even if you find that your friends are around while you’re in the midst of dealing with cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may wonder why they seem disengaged. According to the New York Times, there are a few reasons for this abandonment. It varies, but your friends may not be able to deal with their helplessness in the situation and feel guilty that they can’t cure or comfort you. Survivor’s guilt, or even relief that it didn’t happen to them, can also get in the way. You may find your friends either want to avoid the subject of cancer entirely and go on like nothing is wrong, or they only want to talk about their feelings about your cancer. You are more than your cancer diagnosis, but right now it’s a major part of your life that can’t be ignored.

How Can You Help Them Understand?

Chances are your friends have a limited experience with supporting someone with cancer. Your diagnosis might be scary for them and be a reminder of life’s fragility. Either way, it’s important that you at least recognize how they may be feeling at this time. Then tell them what you need. Often times, friends seem disengaged or unhelpful simply because they have no idea what to do, so get specific. Tell them if you need a ride to chemo or someone to watch Netflix with after a treatment. Ask for help with grocery shopping or meals. You could even tailor your requests to their specific interests. You’ll be surprised, once you tell them what you need, at how quickly they work to support you.

It’s also helpful to direct them to websites or blogs about your type of cancer or treatment, so they better understand your diagnosis and possible side effects. Knowledge is power and can help your friend become your biggest ally.

When Should You Let the Relationship Go?

All of this friend hand-holding can go a long way in getting them to treat you like yourself while still supporting you. It’s wise, however, to know when to let the relationship go as well. If you’re spending too much time and energy trying to bring a friend into your life without much success, it’s better to just take a breath and let it go. Don’t let yourself feel guilty if you’re considering cutting someone out if he or she isn’t willing to make accommodations for your treatment or is dodging your calls and texts. You can’t be your friend’s therapist during this scary time, and it isn’t your responsibility to educate him or her on how to be a good friend.

Friendship should be a source of love, fun and support in your life. While sometimes it works out differently, embrace the people who rally around you during this tough time.

Haley Burress
Haley Burress