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.