Wednesday, September 11, 2013

#BloodCancerAwarenessMonth Q&A: Where did all my friends go?

Over the years, I've received thousands of emails about Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir about my experience with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A cancer diagnosis brings a firestorm of questions, and as a survivor, I can sympathize, but I'm not an expert; many times I just don't have the answers. So this year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I've asked Ashley Rodgers (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling), to respond to some FAQs about the emotional and psychological aspects of the cancer journey. 

Q: Since my cancer diagnosis, a lot of my friends and even some of my family members seem to have disappeared. If I happen to bump into someone I know, they're obviously uncomfortable. WTF?

Ashley says: Many people have experienced loved ones pull away during or after treatment. This is typically because they care about you and do not know how to handle the news regarding your diagnosis. Some people avoid situations of conflict or distress believing their concerns would just add to the heavy load they assume you must already be carrying.

Help shorten the distance by beginning to reconnect with them. Communication is key. Here are a few tips on reconnecting:

Start small. Plan to meet for coffee or dinner just to catch up. It does not have to be a serious sit down. Just relax and revisit your relationship with no pressure or expectations. This can be difficult, but is the best way to reconnect and rebuild your relationships.

Express how you feel. Use "I-statements" to share your feelings with your loved ones and what you expect from them. I-statements are structured like this: “I feel ____ when you _____. Instead I would like you to _____.” This puts your feelings out first and allows your friends to be more receptive of what you have to say, as opposed to the reverse, which puts how they affected you first. This can put your loved ones on the defense and furthers the distance in your relationship. Your I-statement could be as simple as, “I feel hurt when you pull away. Instead I would like you to spend time with me and we don’t have to bring up the C-word.”

Take it slow. Give your relationships time to build and strengthen. Savor each step to a closer relationship as a victory. Perhaps your loved one is not ready for dinner and a movie followed by a road trip across the country, but they are up for coffee at the local café next week. Meet them for coffee and work up to the road trip.

There are several ways to start the road to reconnecting, just pick your path. Be encouraged that others have felt the same way you do and with hope and patience have reconnected with their loved ones.

Here's a great article from Mayo Clinic on reconnecting with loved ones after treatment.

Joni says: This is so much healthier than what I did during chemo; I just sort of withdrew like a turtle and tried not to "bother" anyone. That didn't help my friends who really were hurting for me but didn't know what to say. And it certainly didn't help me. I felt horribly isolated and alone. Thanks, Ashley! Great advice.

We welcome your questions and comments.

*No part of this blog or the book Bald in the Land of Big Hair should be misconstrued as or substituted for medical advice.

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