A cancer diagnosis impacts more than just the patient. Family, friends, and loved ones in the life of the diagnosed individual are affected as well.
Many cancer survivors find that one obstacle they face to a smooth transition into and out of treatment is how loved ones react to their situation. The best way for survivors to prepare for relationship difficulties is to anticipate these difficulties, and to prepare for them.
The purpose of this article is to provide tips for cancer survivors to adjust to relationship changes.
Common Relationship Difficulties
Navigating relationships can be a challenge, likely with changes appearing immediately following your diagnosis. Common scenarios include, but are not limited to:
- Changes in Responsibility. During treatment, you may face physical limitations that are new to you. You may not be able to complete all of the tasks you used to be able to. Examples of this include grocery shopping, household chores, cooking dinner, etc. This is normal, but the limitations survivors face means that, in most instances, another individual will need to fill in to complete the roles you once did. In addition, it is possible that following treatment the loved one that filled in for you may expect for you to re-enter the roles you previously filled. This may cause tension if you are not quite ready to do so.
- Changing Roles. In terms of family and friend dynamics, it is possible that you were head of household or the friend that initiated plans, and you are no longer able to fulfill that role. In the sense of these dynamics, be prepared for role shifts during and after treatment similar to the responsibility to changes.
- Loved Ones Withdraw. You may find that some friends and family members have withdrawn from you, whether this be on purpose of not. This could be a subtle change or an overt distancing. Loved ones might withdraw for a number of reasons, and it is likely that they just don’t know how to approach conversation being worried about saying the wrong thing, or not knowing how they can support you. Some might not know how to react.
- Overly Attentive Loved Ones. You may find that some loved ones might smother you. They love you, of course, but you might find that you are feeling smothered by good intentions and loved ones being overly helpful.
- Nosiness. You might find that you are being asked many questions you are not comfortable answering.
- Pushing Loved Ones Away. If your treatments or recovery is not going as you had hoped, you might feel frustrations and you may find yourself having a shorter fuse than usual. Try not to push loved ones away as you navigate your personal struggles.
- Incomprehension or Insensitivity. You may find that some loved ones have trouble understanding your situation, or that they are insensitive in approaching conversation with you.
Relationships that were strained before a cancer diagnosis will likely continue to be this way following it, and it is possible that they may fall apart. Strong relationships, on the other hand, tend to remain strong and may even strengthen through the experience.
Facing a cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming but having a strong support system to rely on can make the difference in your mindset completely. You can take steps to nurture your relationships with those you love, like friends and family. The first step is to realize that these people love you, but are human, and each of them may have different reactions or approaches to your diagnosis.
Tips for nurturing relationships include, but are not limited to:
- Start the Conversation. Your loved ones might not know how to approach you or what to say if they do. Start the conversation yourself if you find that this may be the case or if you are wanting to reach out to someone specifically. Let people know that you do or don’t want to answer questions, or that you don’t want to talk about cancer if that is the case.
- Accept Assistance. Accept help from your friends and family. Whether this be helping make a meal, driving you to an appointment, or anything else, loved ones want to be there for you.
- Be Vocal About What You Can Contribute. Let your loved ones know what they can expect from you. This may change on a daily basis and being open about your energy levels and your capabilities for the day can help alleviate confusion surrounding what is expected out of you and the other individual.
- Sustain Relationships That Matter to You. You might not be able to hold on to everyone. Some people may withdraw, and if they were not someone you were particularly close with, you might need to make peace with letting them go. This is part of life in general, friends change, and people enter and exit your life. Invest your time and your energy into the friends who are your closest.
- Prepare for Your Conversations. You’re going to get questions about your cancer diagnosis and treatment, so it is a good idea to plan how you will handle these questions. If you are not comfortable discussing, then say that and be honest about it. If you are open to discussion, plan what you will share and how much you share with whom.
- Remain Patient. If you find yourself becoming frustrated with your loved ones, remember that they are trying their best in most cases. They may not know the right things to say or do, but the awkwardness comes from being in unfamiliar territory.
- Join a Support Group. You may reach moments where you feel no one will be able to understand your situation unless they have been in your shoes. Support groups comprised of cancer survivors, whether this be in person or online, may be able to provide you an outlet that you are more comfortable interacting within.
- Seek Professional Guidance. If you find you need some personalized assistance handling your relationships, ask your doctor for a referral to a counselor or therapist that can work with you. He or she might be able to provide you with more ideas to better communicate with your friends and family, especially if you share specifics about these relationship situations.
It is possible that you encounter all of these situations or only one, and it is most likely that you run into both obstacles and extreme support. Take these tips with you moving forward, and plan ahead for how you will approach your relationship changes.