Living with cancer blog

Try these tips to avoid social isolation during cancer

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. April 19, 2016

In past blogs, we've talked about the stigma associated with cancer. This week I'd like to focus on another aspect of living with cancer — social isolation. If you've been diagnosed with cancer, you may know exactly what I'm talking about. I hear about it almost daily.

Cancer treatment can affect your ability to eat, talk, and have the energy to be social in a way that is vital to supporting who you are as a person. Side effects from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may be intense over long periods of time.

Some physical changes are obvious, such as hair loss and visible scars. At times you might be too fatigued or just uncomfortable to put yourself out there for a social outing.

Anyone with cancer can feel a sense of social isolation. However, this can be more intense for some groups. Treatment for head and neck cancer patients for example, causes changes in the mouth and throat that can affect a person's ability to swallow, talk and control secretions.

Those with leukemia may need to be isolated from others during chemotherapy prior to and during a bone marrow transplant. Those with chronic cancer or advanced cancer often face constant treatment without any sort of break from side effects.

Researchers studying this topic with cancer survivors have found that social isolation can increase anxiety, stress, depression and emotional distress.

If you're a caregiver, your time and energy may be so focused on taking care of your loved one that your social life may also be impacted. Think about all of the aspects of life that are social in nature, such as going to work, eating out, talking with friends, traveling, meeting for coffee ... the list goes on and on.

Staying connected when you're living with cancer is important. Getting support and social contact might look different during this time. Here are a few ideas to keep your social connections during times when you find it physically or emotionally difficult.

  • Connect with friends virtually via tools such as Facebook, Skype, Instagram, blogs or Caring Bridge.
  • Instead of attending a large social gathering, reach out to one or two friends for support and connection.
  • If you're not ready to eat out with others, let them know you'd rather join them after dinner — try sipping on a cup of herbal tea and catch up this way.
  • Keep it simple — focus on social outings with people that bring you energy and a sense of happiness. It's OK to say no to other invitations that don't fit for you at this time.
  • Schedule outings when you usually have the most energy.

Mayo Clinic offers virtual options to connect with others who are living with cancer. If you'd like to tell your stories and experiences related to feelings of social isolation or what has worked for you on the blog here, please do. You can also visit our Connect site and share with each other (http://connect.mayoclinic.org/group/cancer/).

With

Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Join the discussion at #livingwithcancer.

April 19, 2016