Friendships Following a Cancer Diagnosis: Are you Still There?

You may have heard the words, “You have breast cancer,” and experienced all of the accompanying emotions, anxieties, questions, and potential life changes. It can be so very overwhelming, including how it might affect your relationships. At the same time, those who know you and love you experience your diagnosis, as well. Your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and yet-to-be-friends – inevitably view your diagnosis through a variety of lenses.

For many women, a breast cancer diagnosis brings a wide range of responses from friends and acquaintances. As one of Firefly Sisterhood’s supporter’s says, “I lost friends that I thought I had. They just couldn’t take it. And I made friends out of acquaintances that really stepped up and showed compassion and interest. It’s very interesting in retrospect to think about how people react…so differently.” This is a common theme we hear from the women we serve – friends who are surprisingly absent, as well as those who truly step up to the plate and go above and beyond.

Cancer can be a very uncomfortable word to hear. It can bring feelings of shock, fear, and, very plainly, dumbfound. Some people just don’t know what to say. Another Firefly friend experienced some friendships fading away upon her diagnosis. She writes, “I think when you are younger and get breast cancer, your friends realize it could happen to them as well, so if they distance themselves from you [they think] maybe it won’t happen [to them].” This separating can be very painful, no matter what age a person is. It can help to remember that most often, the silence is not about you, but about others’ discomfort.

Friends of people with cancer very often want to help but don’t know what to do or say. On their web page titled, “How to be a Friend to Someone with Cancer”, the American Cancer Society offers some great suggestions about how to offer support when someone is diagnosed.

While some friends may seem to run the opposite direction with the news of a cancer diagnosis, others come out of the proverbial woodwork. A Firefly friend told us about how her co-workers stepped in and became the family she needed – sending cards, texting words of encouragement, picking her up off the floor (literally, in one instance!), seeing her through 15 rounds of chemo. She writes, “They cried with me, covered for me, and most importantly kept me laughing without any signs of pity. They are my family.”

Another Firefly supporter tells us about some of the gems in her life, in particular a friend who lives in another state who sent care packages and cards. Funny cards. Lots of cards. And more cards. “It seemed that whenever I was feeling down, I would go to the mailbox and she sent me a card and it really brightened my day. These are the friends you hold near and dear. They are the ones that are there for you in tough times. It’s easy to have lots of friends in good times, but not always when things are rough.”

And then there are those unexpected “bonus” friendships that can be the silver lining of a cancer diagnosis, often consisting of other survivors or medical staff. It is incredibly special to meet someone and immediately have something so profound in common and/or someone with such a deep understanding of the cancer experience. The depth of these new friendships can be profound and the support lifesaving.

Our hope at Firefly Sisterhood is that a breast cancer diagnosis brings fewer instances of silence and many more opportunities for friendships to deepen and new ones to be created.

2 thoughts on “Friendships Following a Cancer Diagnosis: Are you Still There?

  1. Kit Warner on said:

    I just stumbled upon this site and in reading thru the pages, I have a question to take this one step further. 2 years ago I had a Mortorcycle accident, break an arm and leg resulting in surgery. One week later I was told I had class 4 lung cancer, and then surgery right away. You only imagine how my mind went south. When my husband informed my friends (some as long as 50yrs) they’re response was silent. My entire family 2older sisters. 2 nieces that my husband and I helped raise and a married nephew, all walked out of my life. That was 2 years ago and not a single sound from them.
    I don’t know how to cope and with my diagnosis on top.

  2. Firefly Sisterhood on said:

    Thank you for adding your comment. We appreciate your willingness to share your story with us. It can be so difficult when our friends and family do not show up when we need them the most–and unfortunately, that dynamic is all too common when a person is diagnosed with cancer. While Firefly Sisterhood focuses on connecting women facing breast cancer with survivors, there are several other organizations that provide similar support programs for individuals with lung cancer or any cancer. Some good options include the LUNGevity Foundation (www.lungevity.org), Imerman Angels (www.imermanangels.org), Friend for Life Cancer Support Network (www.friend4life.org) and 4th Angel (www.4thangel.org). If you have difficulty connecting with these groups, or if you have additional questions, please feel free to contact our Program Manager, Jenny Cook by email (jenny@fireflysisterhood.org) or phone (612-412-7713).

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