Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

~Bill Withers

Now that you are living with cancer, I am going to fill you in on secret about cancer that is not often talked about. Your going to need some new friends.

I am not saying that every friend you have won’t be there for you, or that they will run to the hills in fear that they can catch your or your family member’s cancer. Not true. Some friends will stay with you and continue to be the awesome friends they have always been.  Your cancer may bring you closer and your relationship with these “keeper friends” will deepen.

You will, however, gather a collection of “background friends”.  These friends, or family members for that matter, are people that have been in your life a long time. You  believed would be there for you and your family should anything happen.  You were confident those friends would help you and yours no matter what. You could count on them.

Now that cancer has come a callin’, you wonder where these friends are. Initially, they called and emailed to see how you are doing.  They were distressed by the news of your diagnosis and asked what they can do to help. Your head was spinning and you said you’d let them know.  Into treatment, you find that you hear from these friends less and less.  They seem to have just moved on while you, or your loved one, are fighting for your life.  You feel separated from the people that you were closest to.

You were not prepared for cancer, and its diagnosis made your head swim and your stomach sink. When your medical team encouraged you to rally your support system, you were sure you had one.  Losing friends never crossed your mind.  You were sure you had all the support you needed.

This is a big secret in the cancer experience. I often see cancer survivors or their family members in my office at this point, wondering what is wrong with them, how they could have misjudged their support system so. They are grieving the loss of their previous life, and a big part of the grief stems from the loss of relationships, of friendships, that they viewed as important and sacred.

We talk together about their grief. I often have to assure them that it is not their fault, that they have done nothing wrong. A serious medical condition tests a support network. “You have entered a world that is unknown to many of your friends, ” I say, “and it scares them.  If it can happen to you, it can happen to them, right? For some of your friends, you are living their worst fear. And they can’t deal with that. “

We often discuss what can be done to gather the support that they need.  They share that the feel so alone. Maybe this is a good time to think about joining a support group?  “Bah!” they might say, “Nothing is wrong with me. I don’t need a pyschobabble group!” But, they do need friends.

When did you last make new friends?  Maybe when you started that new job? Or joined a running group?  Don’t you remember making new friends when you started college or had your first child? This, too, is another milestone in life.  Your cancer is a new phase in your life and you need some peers.

Support groups offer this.  They provide you with a place to connect with others who share the same or similar experiences related to cancer.  You share your achievements, and your fears. Your pain and your joys. They are not therapy groups, nor are they their to tell you something is wrong with you.  They are there to help you know that you are not alone.

Some stumble onto support via the Internet.  They are researching their type of cancer and find an on line support community . Others locate support groups through the hospital where they or their family member is receiving treatment. Other times, you may need to find a local cancer center that provides support groups along with education about cancer. Some use all three types of support groups to help them build a new part of their support network.

Wherever you find it, know that you can count on a support group to help you meet others impacted by cancer and discover a place where you can go to find positive reinforcement, emotional support and hopefulness.

Meeting others, just like you, can lead you to friendships that last beyond cancer.


One response to this post.

  1. My friend Vicki was reluctant to share the degree of her illness with many of her young friends. Therefore, when she turned them down for invitations, they stopped calling her. Most who knew the gravity of her situation stuck with her, but some did not. She gained new friends during this time, I was one of them.

    When she died, at 24 in November, so many of her friends felt guilty–though they hadn’t really known how sick she was. Candor is hard, but for someone to stand the test of friendship, it’s needed.


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