How to Maintain Friendships When You Have Cancer

A mesothelioma patient and her friend are wearing sun hats and recreationally riding beach cruiser bicycles together.

Friendship enriches our lives and benefits our well-being. For cancer patients, it can also offer invaluable help and support. After a mesothelioma cancer diagnosis, you might see changes, both big and small, in your friendships. Some friendships may become even closer than before.

Change during a difficult time is natural and understandable. You may prefer keeping a small inner circle. Or you may have important friendships you feel unsure about how to maintain. Below, we’ve provided insights about why cancer might change friendships and six tips for staying connected to the people you care about.

How Does Cancer Change Friendships?

Cancer may lead to changes in even the closest friendships. This can feel hurtful or upsetting, especially while managing a cancer diagnosis. These changes are usually due to complex emotions on both sides.

It may help to first understand why friendships often shift during a time like this. This understanding may ultimately help strengthen your connection to each other.

While every friendship dynamic is unique, various reasons are common in these situations.

Why Your Friends Might Be Distant or Absent

In some cases, it may seem that your friends are distancing themselves. You might wonder if this means they don’t care. But it often comes out of love or uncertainty. The reason might be something simple, like not knowing what to say. Or they may expect you’re overwhelmed and not want to add to that.

For many people, cancer can also bring up difficult memories and feelings. For instance, your friend may have lost a loved one to cancer. Emotions from that loss might be resurfacing for them. Or they may feel guilty about their good health while you’re living with cancer. They might also be scared to see if cancer has begun affecting you physically and emotionally.

Why You Might Be Isolating From Friends

You may also find yourself creating distance between you and your friends. A cancer diagnosis often comes with complicated emotions and worries. You might worry about burdening your friends or about them treating you differently. Or you may feel they can’t relate to you during this time. It might be that you’re scared to tell friends about your diagnosis in the first place.

These, and any other emotions you’re feeling, are valid. It can also be overwhelming to process a mesothelioma diagnosis and all the new information it comes with. You might be busy with things out of your control, like necessary medical appointments and tests.

Six Tips for Staying Close With Friends During Cancer

There is no shame in cancer creating distance between close friends. But friendship can be especially important during this time. So how can you bridge the gap cancer has created?

  1. Decide how much about your diagnosis you want to share with friends. You don’t have to tell everyone everything. With some friends, you may want to. But with others, you might simply say you have cancer and are keeping the details private.
  2. Tell your friends what you need from them. You might want frequent contact and check-ins, or you might need space. Being honest about what you need helps friends know how to support you. It can also alleviate any guilt you feel if you need some space.
  3. Choose activities you have energy and availability for. These might not be the same activities you did in the past with friends. For example, you and a friend may have met up for long runs every week. Maybe now you can meet for shorter walks instead.
  4. Ask friends to keep inviting you to events. Even if you can’t attend, an invitation can make you feel included. Or if you don’t like saying no, explain when they shouldn’t invite you to something. For instance, dinners in crowded restaurants may not be an option if you’re receiving immunosuppressive treatments, like chemotherapy.
  5. Ask friends to visit you at home or in the hospital. There may be times when you have no energy to go out but would still like company. In these cases, you can ask someone to visit you at home or the hospital. If you’re nervous about their reaction to physical changes, you might ask a loved one to give them a heads-up. They might also want to bring food or entertainment.
  6. Stay in touch via text messages, phone calls or emails. Depending on factors like your treatment schedule and symptoms, you may prefer to connect virtually with friends. You can schedule regular phone calls or ask friends to check in periodically over text. This can help you stay connected without too much effort.

As time passes, be open about what you need from friends. If this looks different than it used to, that’s okay. Being honest gives them the chance to better support you. If you still feel distance in some friendships, you might simply let them go for now. Focus your time on the people who can support you instead.

Mental health services, like therapy and mesothelioma support groups, can also help you manage the challenges of changing friendships. You might even make friends with other patients in your support group. Staying open to change may lead to support and friendship in unexpected, powerful ways.