As with any health crisis, relationships are tested. Primarily partner/family relationships, but also friendships and work related relationships. Immediate family often feels the most impact, while friends either come out in full support or disappear, and employers/co-workers dance around the topic trying to respect privacy while providing support.
By sharing my experience and what worked for me, my hope is that those who have been diagnosed with cancer will understand that I get it, and those who are caregivers/family/friends will gain some insight and you let your loved one know that they are not alone.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer it was recommended to me to have a mastectomy and I chose to have a double. I also chose not to make any decisions about reconstruction right away and as a result I was flat (concave, really) for about a year. Although I was not in a relationship with a man at the time, I can imagine that the body changes can have a major impact on not only the woman, but the man involved and in turn, the relationship. With my children, I found that sharing things with them step by step helped to alleviate fears. Nothing can fully prepare children for seeing their mom sick, bald and in pain from surgery or medications, but I feel it’s best to be as honest as is possible and appropriate for the age level.
Speaking of fears, I believe it is one of the reasons people with cancer lose friendships. Cancer is scary and some people cannot deal with the fear and avoid the person who has been diagnosed. Sometimes the friendship resumes after health has improved, and sometimes not. I did feel some people drift away, and there were others who provided more support than I would have imagined. I also found friendships with others who were also experiencing breast cancer to be comforting. Both in-person and on-line support groups can be helpful for making connections with others who are going through something similar.
Work relationships may be impacted if you choose to share your diagnosis, or are forced to do so. I chose to be forthcoming with my diagnosis with my employer and co-workers and I found my employers to be understanding and my co-workers some of my best supporters.
One of the things I learned during my studies with IIN is that healthy relationships are vital to one’s health. Yet, in the case with cancer, the physical health challenges may cause relationship struggles, which in turn may be a detriment to your healing. Communication is key…communicating your needs, your thoughts, and your feelings. There may be days when you tell your family you are having a bad day, and need to stay in bed, or there may be days when you can participate more. There may be days when you are craving something, or really need some crackers for an upset stomach. Please reach out to a friend or neighbor. You may find many people who are happy to run an errand for you. I found that people wanted to help, but didn’t know how to, so as hard as it may be, you have to ask for it. There are also websites that allow people to sign up to assist their loved ones who are in need.
One aspect of my health coaching is allowing space for my clients to process the changes in relationships, and their body, that occur as a result of their diagnosis. During our sessions we may talk about the loss of a friendship, and strategies for coping with the emotions that go with the loss. I also provide options and resources that may make these relationships stronger.