Having cancer as a young adult is particularly problematic on a social/relational level, and I’ve been asked a lot about how it’s affected my relationships with my friends/family.
By: Robin Harry
When we were young, and truth was paramount,
We were older then, and we lived our lives without any doubt
Those memories, they seem so long ago, what’s become of them?
When you feel like me I want you to know
Don’t cry, you’re not alone…
Having cancer as a young adult is particularly problematic on a social/relational level, and I’ve been asked a lot about how it’s affected my relationships with my friends/family. The truth is…it’s complicated. This is the age where most people are figuring out the shape and direction of their lives. They’re figuring out their careers and jobs, working out their finances, finding the loves of their lives, having/raising children, finding places to call home, taking care of their parents. I should know; that’s what I trying to do before I got sick.
Today I dreamed of friends I had before,
And I wonder why the ones who care don’t call anymore…
Here’s what I theorize happens when a you’re a young person, diagnosed with cancer, coming along and disrupting that already chaotic sense of being of everyone around you. The faint-hearted and self-absorbed disappear. They become silent, never ask how you are, or even worse – relegate you to random Facebook pokes. (I hate that, by the way. How is FB poking even still a thing?) Those are the people that you have to assume afterwards weren’t quite the best of friends to begin with, and you realize very quickly that you don’t need them in your day-to-day.
The good friends stick around. They’re all over you, making sure you’re okay, asking if you need anything, offering prayers and ears and shoulders and hugs and all that good stuff. But then as time goes along, the novelty and panic wears off, and those friends may think one of a few things.
One – oh hey, you’re doing okay. You look good, you sound great. You’re not quite as despondent and needy as they expected.
Two – life is still going on, and they can’t afford to give you as much time as they thought they could. The months of treatment seems way longer in reality than it did in theory when it all started.
Three – you’re sick and probably too tired to entertain/talk/do anything of reasonable importance, so they’re doing you a favour by leaving you alone, leaving you out of their own chaos.
Four – friends assume that you’ll call when you need them (which is a terrible fallacy, by the way).
So there you have it. By some of the most logical and reasonable thought processes in the world, the young cancer patient starts the journey fending off phone calls, but then after a few months goes for days without hearing from someone from the “outside world”. That’s where the isolation comes in.
My feelings hurt, but you know I overcome the pain,
And I’m stronger now; There can’t be a fire unless there’s a flame.
Don’t cry…you’re not alone…
As well as I have been coping, it’s hard to for me to feel like I’m on the outside looking in all the time, on the back burner, sometimes even forgotten or ignored. But it’s important for me to wonder WHY, and to understand those reasons. The big one to keep in mind is : “It’s Not About Me.” Sometimes having cancer can be so overwhelming that it’s easy to forget that everyone around us is going through their own struggles. It’s important to remember that all these folks didn’t suddenly become inconsiderate people – they’re just trying to get through life just as I am. They’re still good friends no matter what. Our relationships may change as this journey goes along – but relationships always evolve, cancer just happens to be a catalyst. Also, it’s times like these that I have to remember my faith and God’s promise that I’m not alone.
I guess all this is to say – as complicated as it all is, and as loud as the silence gets, I’m not losing sleep over it. If it takes this crazy lymphoma journey to make me a more self-reliant person (and I’m stronger now), then it’s a lesson worth learning. I sing this Seal song to myself all the time – I’m both the singer and the serenaded. Self-encouragement at its best.
The challenges we took were hard enough
They get harder now, even when we think that we’ve had enough
Don’t feel alone, cause it’s I who understands
I’m your sedative, take a piece of me whenever you can
Seal: “Don’t Cry”