Dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer

Dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer: two diverse women posing at camera supporting each other
When you have cancer, the strength of a support network can make all the difference. Dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer is a painful reality, but remember, it's your journey to reclaim. | Photo Credit: ©alfa27 / Adobe Stock

"Facing cancer is daunting enough, but enduring it with an unsupportive family during cancer adds an extra layer of hardship."

Official guide: dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer

When battling cancer, it becomes essential to address the challenges of dealing with unsupportive friends and family. In this guide, I aim to share my experiences and offer advice based on personal encounters. By understanding the dynamics at play, both within your own mind and in the minds of those around you, you can navigate this complex situation more effectively.

Throughout my journey, I have encountered a diverse range of experiences. While some friends and family rushed to my side and provided unwavering support upon hearing my diagnosis, others distanced themselves completely. Cancer is a revealing litmus test, demonstrating who your true friends are and which family members you can rely on. It is crucial not to dismiss these revelations; instead, leverage them to construct the most robust possible support network.

A somewhat public persona made me an easy target for petty individuals on social media and other platforms. I've seen posts suggesting I was faking my illness for attention or claiming that my condition wasn't as severe as I portrayed it. However, these people, upon being confronted, cowardly shunned the truth and blocked any attempts at meaningful dialogue.

When you have cancer, the strength of a support network can make all the difference. Dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer is a painful reality, but remember, it's your journey to reclaim.

Accept the help offered by caring individuals

Avoid seeking encouragement or opinions from outside sources when establishing your support network. Unfortunately, the world, and even your local community, harbors individuals who thrive on spreading petty rumors and exploiting others' misfortunes for personal gain. Over time, I've learned to ignore such individuals and, in some cases, even feel pity for them.

Acknowledging that battling cancer can result in significant time and financial losses is essential. Personally, when I finally completed my tax returns, I realized the extent of my financial setbacks surpassed my initial estimations. During this challenging period, it is essential to set aside pride and accept the help offered by caring individuals. Your family will depend on this support, and you will also require it. Battling cancer is already stressful enough; worrying about the potential loss of a home or vehicle only exacerbates the strain.

Upon receiving your diagnosis, vocalizing the word "cancer" is crucial until you can say it without breaking down. Why is this important? Because during the initial stages of treatment, you will engage in lucid conversations about cancer and explore various treatment options with healthcare professionals. Although some people will want to keep their cancer a secret, for practical reasons, you will at some point need to inform your employer about your condition, and your spouse will also need to adapt. Personally, it took me a week before I could utter the word cancer without succumbing to overwhelming emotions. However, once I confronted it head-on, I felt a newfound strength to face the challenges.

Embrace that you have cancer and refuse to be intimidated by the disease. Cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was in contemporary times. You and your doctors can explore numerous treatment options before considering surrender. Listen to your doctors, adhere to their guidance, and avoid substituting their expertise with unverified information on diet supplements found online. Be transparent with your doctors and heed their advice diligently.

Undoubtedly, cancer changes you and becomes a significant part of your identity. However, it should not dictate the entirety of your life. Continue pursuing your passions and aspirations. Although you may proceed slower and require occasional breaks, keep living your life to the fullest.

Once you are diagnosed with cancer, other health issues tend to amplify. In my case, I faced the risk of losing sight due to cancer, a consequence I hadn't foreseen. Furthermore, my excess weight hindered my battle against the disease. While it took some time for this realization to sink in, approximately a month ago, I committed myself to improving my overall health. I have shed weight, embarked on an exercise regimen, and strived for better well-being. When you feel better physically, your fighting spirit strengthens.

"Amidst cancer's battle, dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer requires strength beyond measure. Rise above negativity, build a resilient support network, and prove that love conquers all. Discover how to navigate this challenging journey with grace and determination."

While it's essential to consider the feelings of others, it is equally important to remember to take care of yourself. Listen to what your body is telling you. If you need a day or two of rest, allow yourself that time. Get enough sleep, eat well, and engage in activities that you enjoy. You don’t have to constantly prove your strength. You are allowed to have moments of vulnerability. It's okay to cry. It's okay to feel scared. Allow yourself to feel these emotions and then use them as a catalyst to continue fighting. 

Lastly, self-care is not being selfish. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Take time for your mental and emotional well-being. Listen to your favorite music, read a good book, or engage in a hobby. These acts of self-care can significantly improve your outlook and give you the additional strength you need to take on this new challenge. 

Be patient and compassionate with yourself

Dealing with unsupportive friends and family can intensify feelings of isolation and despair. It's crucial to remind yourself that your feelings are valid. Be patient with yourself and understand that your emotional landscape will be a rollercoaster during this journey. 

Document your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Jotting down your experiences can be therapeutic and can help in processing your emotions. Being able to express yourself openly can provide relief from the internal turmoil that may be brewing due to unsupportive friends and family. 

Furthermore, practice self-compassion. Forgive yourself for moments of weakness and applaud yourself for each small victory. Remember, your fight against cancer is your journey. You define your path and your progress. Never discredit your strength based on the unsupportive actions of others. 

At the end of the day, the fight against cancer is a personal journey. Navigating the challenges can be overwhelming but remember that you are stronger than you think. Surround yourself with a positive support network, take care of your well-being, practice self-compassion, and let your courageous spirit lead the way.

"The only way to deal with unsupportive friends and family is to focus on the love and support you do have."

Karen Salmansohn

Remember to take care of yourself

How not to be an unsupportive friend or family member

For those who do not have cancer, please understand that individuals with cancer generally do not fit the stereotypical image of a bald, terminally ill patient perpetually hooked up to an IV. At Roswell, the cancer center I frequent, most patients look healthy like anyone else. Only when the fight reaches its most challenging stages can someone resemble the typical portrayal of a cancer patient.

Therefore, refrain from attempting to reassure yourself by insinuating that a person with cancer is merely pretending due to their outward appearance. Countless cancer patients have shared stories of families disbelieving their illness and even abandoning them during this critical time. Cancer cannot be fought alone. Suppose you judge someone based on appearances rather than standing by their side and fighting alongside them. In that case, it reveals a regrettable lack of empathy.

Since December 27, 2015, I have witnessed and experienced a great deal. I have undergone profound transformations and encountered both the callousness and the compassion that people are capable of. While I remain committed to winning my personal battle, I aspire to assist others in their journeys. Never allow anyone to instill guilt within you for having cancer, as it is an all-too-common occurrence. Confide in your doctor if you reach out to family and friends and find yourself devoid of support. At Roswell, an exceptional program exists to provide cancer patients with the emotional support they need.

How to be more empathetic to a family member with cancer

So, how do we support our beloved ones going through cancer without adding to their difficulties? The answers lie in empathy and understanding. 

  • Listen. Don't always feel the need to inject your thoughts or experiences. Sometimes, all they need is a friend who listens without judgment.
  • Inquire about their feelings. Direct questions about their emotional wellbeing show you're concerned about their mental health, not just their physical condition.
  • Acknowledge their struggles. Providing a safe space for them to share can be immensely comforting, lending them the strength to persevere.

Educate yourself about cancer

Lastly, it's vital to educate yourself about cancer to best support your friend or family member. By understanding what they're dealing with, you can communicate more effectively and be more conscious of their needs. 

  • Learn about their specific type of cancer. Each form has different symptoms, treatments, and side effects. The more you know, the better you can comprehend what they're experiencing.
  • Understand the treatment process. Be aware of the rigorous regimen they're going through, from tests and surgical procedures to the medications and their side effects.
  • Join support groups. Speaking with others in similar situations can lend insight into what your loved one might experience and provide tools to navigate those challenges.

Always keep in mind: your friend or family member is the same person they were before their diagnosis. They are not defined by their illness. They need your love, support, and understanding more than ever during this challenging life transition. Let's stand by them, helping wherever we can. After all, that's what true friends and families do.

Remember: You don't have to fight cancer alone.

Do not succumb to the trivialities of idle gossip or fake friendships.

Do not succumb to the negativity of unsupportive friends and family during cancer

Never stop fighting.

No one can truly comprehend your struggles, but believe me when I say that those closest to you are enduring alongside you. In my case, my wife has been an incredible pillar of strength. Find your rock, your unwavering source of support, and hold onto it tightly.

Facing cancer is daunting, but enduring it with an unsupportive family during cancer adds an extra layer of hardship.

Victory is within your grasp. Never doubt your ability to overcome. Just keep fighting.

"When you have cancer, dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer is a painful reality, but remember, it's your journey to reclaim. Surround yourself with those who uplift you and understand the power of empathy."

Dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer was originally published by URevolution in 2018. It was updated and republished on 21 June 2023.

Article by
George Root

George Root III, the author of "Dealing with unsupportive friends and family during cancer," was an accomplished author, including The Caleb Devin Chronicles. He called the wilds of Western New York home, where he actually enjoyed Western New York winters. He dabbled in non-fiction, but his passion was science fantasy, science fiction, and Godzilla. George died on March 7th, 2019.