Cancer survivors: Reconnecting with loved ones after treatment

Friends and family provide an important circle of support for cancer survivors. Learn how to nurture relationships so that you can avoid common problems.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your friends and family love you and are worried about you — but they sometimes have strange ways of showing it. Some people withdraw and avoid talking to you. Others smother you and treat you like a child.

Many cancer survivors find that one barrier to a smooth transition out of cancer treatment is the reaction they get from friends and family. One way for cancer survivors to prepare for relationship difficulties is to expect these problems and plan accordingly.

Common relationship issues for cancer survivors

Chances are you've noticed that some of your relationships have felt strained since you ended your cancer treatment. You've probably felt alone and sad as you've seen people turn away from you or otherwise treat you differently from how they had before. Navigating relationships is a challenge for cancer survivors transitioning to life after treatment.

You may recognize some of these common scenarios:

  • Changing responsibilities. During treatment, you might not have been able to handle all the household duties you had performed before your cancer diagnosis.

    For instance, maybe you were in charge of grocery shopping and cooking dinner. If cancer treatment tired you out and you were unable to continue those tasks, your partner or another family member might have filled in for you.

    Now that your cancer treatment is over, that person might be expecting you to resume those responsibilities — but you might not feel up to it yet. This can be frustrating for your family member, and you might feel pressured to do more than you can handle.

  • Changing roles. If you were a take-charge kind of person before cancer, you may find that during treatment your partner had to take over that role. Deciding when and how to switch back can be confusing and awkward.
  • Withdrawing from you. You may find that some friends and family members are avoiding you. It could be subtle or overt, such as when someone stops returning your phone calls. Either way, it hurts.

    People withdraw for a number of reasons. The person might not know what to say or is worried about saying the wrong thing. He or she might not know how to offer you support. Others don't know how to react.

  • Giving you too much attention. Rather than feeling lonely, you might find yourself being smothered with good intentions. Friends or family might baby you and insist on doing things for you when no assistance is needed. They love you and want to help, but in fact they're too helpful.
  • Being nosy. Some people ask a lot of questions — perhaps more than you're comfortable answering.
  • Confusing expectations. If your recovery isn't going as well as you'd hoped, you might be frustrated. You might expect everything to go back to normal right away, but that isn't happening. Try not to take your frustrations out on the people around you. If you do, you could push them away.

Whether you encounter problems with your relationships often depends on the strength of the relationships beforehand. Relationships that were already strained tend to continue that way after cancer, sometimes completely falling apart. Strong relationships can become even stronger through the cancer experience.

Oct. 08, 2014 See more In-depth