by CATHERINE NGUYEN
Relationships often change once a person is diagnosed with cancer. Some people don’t know what to do or are afraid of saying the wrong thing. It can be easier for them to just stay away.
Diagnosed with a brain tumour in his late twenties, Dan remarked: “Once you get diagnosed, you’re instantaneously probably going to lose about 90 per cent of your friends because they get uncomfortable. It’s almost like we remind them of mortality. They don’t understand that just because we have cancer, that doesn’t mean we’re going to die.”
Even close relationships can be affected as well. James says : “I actually lost my best friend through this whole thing. My best friend in the world … He just wasn’t there for me…. And it was my best friend since we were 5 years old … he just wasn’t there for me at all. And he didn’t even call to see how I was doing.”
For young adults who are in the process of establishing their own independence and identity, friendships are more important than ever. Canteen, an organisation set up by a group of young cancer patients in 1985 specifically to help young people cope with cancer, recognises the importance of friendship. ‘A guide to supporting your friend when they have cancer’ is available on their website, and is an excellent resource for anyone looking for guidance.
The guide provides an introduction to cancer, what your friend might be going through and how you may be reacting to it all. More importantly, it provides some practical tips on how you can help your friend, and how to talk to your friend including what to say and what not to say.
Keeping in touch is a great way to show that you care. If you can’t visit in person because of Covid-19, messages, emails, texts and calls can help to show that you haven’t forgotten them.
Don’t let your fear of saying the wrong thing stop you from contacting your friend. You may wish to let your friend know that you’re worried about saying something wrong, so they know you don’t mean to cause offence. If you don’t know what to say, you can just listen to your friend and show that you care.
A friend in need is a friend indeed. As Marisa, a young breast cancer survivor says: “Please don’t walk away… And the smallest gesture that you are able to make can be more impactful than you would imagine.”
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She cared for her father and her husband with cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.