What you can do to nurture relationships with friends and family

Before feelings of loneliness and isolation get you down, remember that you can take steps to nurture relationships with friends and family. The first step is to acknowledge that all of these people care about you, and they each have their own way of reacting to your cancer.

Tips for repairing relationships include:

  • Start the conversation. Some people might want to ask how you're feeling, but they don't know what to say. Or maybe they think they'll upset you.

    Start the conversation yourself. Let people know that you welcome their questions — or that you don't wish to talk about your cancer at that time.

  • Accept help. Friends and family are going to ask you if there's anything they can do to help. Plan ahead and come up with ways for people to give you some assistance, whether it's helping around the house or just being there for you when you need to talk. Friends and family feel good when they can help.
  • Let others know what to expect of you. Be honest about what you can do and what you can't.

    If you aren't ready to assume the responsibilities you had around the house before your cancer diagnosis, don't feel pressured to take up those duties too soon. But tell your family what to expect so that they aren't left wondering.

    When you're ready to take up your prior duties, let your family know that these tasks can help you feel more normal and aid in your recovery.

  • Keep the friendships that matter. Some people may withdraw from you, and you'll have to let them go. Try not to expend a lot of emotional energy trying to patch up relationships that may not have been strong to begin with. Invest your time and energy in the friends who are closest to you.
  • Plan what you'll say. You'll get questions about your cancer and your treatment. Decide how you'll answer these questions — especially if someone asks questions you don't feel comfortable answering.

    In some situations you might let the person know that you don't feel comfortable answering those questions. Other times you might avoid answering an uncomfortable question by changing the subject or redirecting the conversation.

  • Be patient with others. If you find yourself becoming frustrated, remember that the people around you have good intentions. They may not know the right things to say or do, so their words and actions may seem inappropriate or critical. That awkwardness may come from unfamiliarity with the situation.

    With time and patience, things may improve.

  • Stay involved when you can. Some friends or family might not invite you to do things because they assume you aren't yet ready for social activities. Let these people know when you want to be included — or ask someone else to relay your message.
  • Seek out support groups. You'll have times when you feel that people who haven't had cancer can't understand what you're going through.

    Discuss your feelings with other cancer survivors, whether in a support group in your community or online.

    Support groups are also available for cancer survivors' friends and family. Suggest these to the people closest to you.

  • Get professional help. Ask your doctor for a referral to a counselor or therapist for more help. He or she may have ideas on ways to better communicate with your friends and family.

It's entirely possible that everyone in your family and in your circle of friends will be supportive throughout your recovery. But chances are that you will run into a few relationship obstacles. Think ahead about how you'll deal with potential problems.

Oct. 08, 2014 See more In-depth