After a cancer diagnosis, you may find that some people in your life treat you differently. Read on to learn how to manage uncomfortable or hurtful interactions with family members, friends, co-workers, and strangers.
Why people act differently toward those with cancer
"This is very common," says Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. "It relates to our cultural fear of cancer. Some people illogically think cancer is contagious or they are scared that cancer may be possible for them in the future."
How close relationships are affected by cancer
You may notice some changes in your close relationships after you are diagnosed. Not all changes will be negative. Buttimer says many of her clients find that unexpected people show up in their lives as they face cancer.
However, if you feel like a loved one is consistently distant or awkward around you, you aren't alone.
"I've heard many sad, difficult stories from patients who had family members and friends who couldn't deal with their loved one's diagnosis," she says. "Part of this experience is learning that some people don't know how to handle the news and don't have the coping skills."
She recommends finding a support group or community of other survivors, like those at Cancer Wellness, who understand your circumstances.
"Not everyone in your life is going to be that person," she says.
Setting boundaries at work and in public
Setting boundaries is key when addressing your diagnosis at work or in public. Determine what information you are comfortable disclosing and where you draw the line. Buttimer suggests developing a mantra you can repeat when someone is too invasive with their questions or goes too far.
"It's the 'broken record' technique," she explains. "You can say something like, 'I'm not comfortable discussing that in so much detail.' It's better to be prepared because it usually does happen. Have a couple of sentences you can use once you recognize what your boundaries are. Some people are open books, while others are more private. "
How to address the "elephant" in the room
If you feel like someone in your life is behaving strangely, you may choose to address the "elephant" in the room.
"I recommend doing this on a case-by-case basis," says Buttimer.
If it's a colleague, you may choose to let the situation go. But if your child, spouse or best friend is treating you differently, it's important to be direct, says Buttimer.
"Sit down, let them ask questions, reassure them and educate them about what is happening," she suggests. "How you handle it depends on your relationship and the type of relationship you want to have moving forward."
Managing your feelings
If someone's reaction hurts you, realize that your feelings are normal and acceptable.
"If you're feeling sad or angry, acknowledge that emotion," says Buttimer. "Write in a journal about how you are feeling. Find a support system that can show up for you, such as a counselor, coach or support group who understands what it's like to be stared at in the grocery store or asked invasive questions, who understand what it's like to walk the walk."
Self-care is also crucial during this time.
"It's really key to take good care of yourself. This is a time for radical self-care. Focus on what you need and feel versus what others need and feel regarding your cancer diagnosis."
See more tips for self-care during cancer treatment.