How can cancer change your life?

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Discover the profound impact of cancer on your life and relationships. Explore how this disease alters perspectives, shifts conversations, and transforms the way people treat you.

How can cancer change your life: painting of hand shadow holding a man against a wall

How can cancer change your life?

Discover the profound impact of cancer on your life and relationships. Explore how this disease alters perspectives, shifts conversations, and transforms the way people treat you. Gain insights into navigating the changes and finding strength amidst the challenges.

Cancer Alters Friendships

It's undoubtedly painful when friends abandon you during your illness. It hurts deeply. Yet, among the multitude of acquaintances and friends who seem to vanish from your side, there are those who mean well but are simply clueless about how to communicate with someone who has cancer. Allow me to paint a picture of what it feels like to have the same conversations with a hundred people who mean well but lack the knowledge of what to say.

The first few hours after receiving your diagnosis are a whirlwind of tears, anger, fear, and more anger. The overwhelming question arises: "Why me?"

In my case, it was December 27, 2015, when I was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer. I found myself asking, "Why me?" I never smoked, drank excessively, or indulged in illegal substances. No one saw it coming. 

"You have cancer," they said, "and only a 10-percent chance of survival. We have no idea why."

The most challenging aspect of discussing cancer is that initial week or two, when uttering the word "cancer" becomes an immense struggle. I remember calling my sister-in-law just hours after my diagnosis, and as I tried to relay the news, the word "cancer" stumbled out as an incoherent mess. 

It took nearly two weeks for me to utter that word without shedding tears. But once you reach that point, everything changes.

“It is not life as we know or understand it. Yet it is obviously alive; it exists.”


Cancer Shifts Perceptions and Conversations

"You look great."

If I had a dime for every time someone told me I looked great after they learned about my cancer, I would have enough to drown my sorrows in a bottomless glass.

When people think of cancer, they envision bald, frail individuals tethered to IV bottles. The reality, however, is that most cancer patients don't fit that image.

While I try to spare people discomfort, I couldn't resist when a friend of mine commented on how great I looked. I retorted, 

"For years, you never commented on my appearance. But now, with cancer, I suddenly look great. Cancer must be a beautifier!"

He understood the humor, but more importantly, he grasped the underlying message.

"Please talk to me."

Upon returning home from my cancer surgery, I noticed that no one wanted to talk to me because they didn't know what to say. That's perfectly understandable, but I was determined to put an end to it.

Being a relatively well-known writer in my area, I immediately penned an announcement about my diagnosis. Additionally, I had the advantage of hosting a local Internet radio talk show at Niagara's WaterCooler.

On my first radio show after the surgery, I insisted that the rest of the cast join me in mocking cancer. In my view, it's acceptable to find humor in the face of cancer.

We personified cancer and proceeded to detail what we would do to it. While some of it pushed the boundaries of what the FCC would allow, I loved it.

I am one of those individuals who wants to talk about cancer because I understand how it frightens people. I can see the fear in their eyes when they look at me, but I make them laugh and reassure them not to be afraid. 

Some don't listen, and some still want to cradle me like a helpless baby, stroking my skin until they find solace. However, it doesn't work that way. Just talk to me about cancer, and I will respond.

Engaging in difficult conversations about cancer with someone like me is the most effective way for both parties to navigate through it. It also helps you confront your own mortality. People fear cancer due to its unknown nature. That's precisely why I openly discuss my experience.

If I can assist even one person in facing their battle with cancer defiantly rather than fearfully by sharing what they might expect, then all of those conversations were worth it.

How Cancer Can Change the Way People Treat You

After learning about your cancer diagnosis, you may notice a significant shift in the way people treat you. It's as if your illness becomes a defining characteristic, overshadowing other aspects of your identity. 

Suddenly, conversations revolve solely around your health, and people may treat you with an excessive amount of sympathy or pity.

Friends, acquaintances, and even strangers may approach you delicately, fearing that any mention of your condition might upset you. Some individuals may avoid engaging with you altogether, unsure of how to navigate the conversation or offer support.

While these reactions stem from good intentions, they can be isolating. You yearn for normalcy and genuine interactions, yet it seems as though your cancer diagnosis has altered the dynamics of your relationships.

In my own experience, I discovered that open communication is the key to breaking down these barriers. I encourage others to talk to me about my cancer, to ask questions, and to engage in conversations beyond the confines of my illness. By creating an environment where cancer is not the sole focus, I can remind others that I am still the same person I was before the diagnosis.

Of course, it takes time for both you and those around you to adjust to this new reality. Some may never fully comprehend how to navigate conversations about cancer, and that's okay. It's important to remember that not everyone will understand or know what to say. Instead of dwelling on the differences, focus on cultivating relationships with individuals who are willing to support and engage with you on a deeper level.

Cancer has a way of revealing the true nature of people and the strength of your connections. While some friendships may fade away, others will surprise you with their unwavering support. Embrace those who are willing to stand by your side, and cherish the genuine connections that emerge or strengthen throughout your journey.

This is how cancer can change your life.

"People fear cancer due to its unknown nature. That's precisely why I openly discuss my experience."

Article by
George Root

George Root III, the author of "How can cancer change your life?," 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.


Along with the stress and anxiety that come with cancer, one-way cancer can change your life is that the people you have known for years suddenly see you differently, and some even disappear. | ©psychoshadow / Adobe Stock