A person in the foreground watching happy people and feeling alone

Cancer Affects The People Around Us, Too

Cancer, more so than any other illness, makes us rely on others for help. Most of the time that means family, and whether your “family” is the one you were born into, the one you chose, or the one you found when you were diagnosed, when cancer comes calling you lean on them more than you ever thought you could. What does that mean, exactly, though?

You need support from those who are the closest

When you hear the doctor say “blood cancer” for the first time, it’s like hearing you got fired, or that you are losing your house, or that you didn’t get that part that you auditioned for and would have been literally perfect for because you actually have a chronic illness and know how it feels but instead they picked a healthy person – theoretically.

The point is, cancer changes your entire life and the resulting treatment that inevitably comes along with it – whether it’s chemo, radiation, surgery, or some combination of the three, no one comes through that without a little help. Where does that help usually come from? Whoever is closest to you.

Many times, the help from cancer comes from a parent or child. Actual family, usually because they are the ones closest to us at the time of diagnosis. For me it was my mother, and frankly, she was more freaked out about the diagnosis than I was.

My mother was terrified

Maybe because I had dealt with three decades of chronic illness previous to the cancer, but either way I wasn’t really shaken. My mother, however, was terrified – and who can blame her? Her response was pretty much the normal one when someone says, “you have cancer.” Not the weirdly muted, ho-hum, “anyway, what’s for dinner?” response that my chronic-illness addled brain produced.

Sufficed to say, it freaked her out and that’s more or less par for the course for those who go through the journey with us, the ones close to us that help to bear the burden. As I always say, cancer is a heavy lift, and it helps to have others to hoist that heft along with you.

Our cancer takes a toll on our loved ones

Something I think we don’t consider, though, is the toll it takes on those around us. Sure, they may not physically have cancer, but they experience some of the same emotions and feelings that we do, and it can be enough of a burden to break relationships and ruin previously unshakeable bonds.

For me it was my spouse – cancer pretty much ended my marriage. After living for years dealing with my rheumatoid arthritis apparently cancer was a bridge too far and scared her enough for her to leave. Best I can figure is that she saw some kind of future where she had to play caretaker 24-7 and didn’t want any part of it. Either way, the point is, the burden of cancer on those around us is real, and it can result in some serious consequences.

Our cancer impacts our friends, too

Cancer also affects our friends. It’s kind of like borrowing money, actually. When you first do it, everyone is happy to help. As time goes on, though, friends get more and more frustrated and eventually things can reach a boiling point.

Sometimes the people just disappear outright.

Then when things are over and it’s time to finally pay people back, everything seems to go back to normal but it’s never really the same. That’s cancer and friendships to a T.

Some people step up, some disappear

Some friends will step up and become your confident and helper, and some friends will drop off the face of the Earth, and it’s never who you think it will be.

Why? Well, there’s a multitude of reasons – facing their own morbidity, dealing with the uncomfortable emotions that cancer brings up, or simply not wanting to be bothered with help requests – whatever the case it affects your friendships then and forever.

Romantic relationships change

Finally, there’s the romantic relationships. True, I may have a slightly biased point of view due to my marriage taking a dive during chemo, but what I’ve come to find out is that my situation is much less uncommon than I thought.

In fact, I see it everyday on our site – people posting about spouses, partners, and significant others either leaving or completely disconnecting. Acting distant, treating the person with cancer differently, and in some cases even getting angry at the person. Sounds irrational, I know, but it happens more than you think. Cancer is, well, cancer for romantic relationships.

Do I have any advice for you, as someone who went through it? Well, I could tell you to try to do your best not to put too much on your partner, and handle what you can yourself but, I mean, you have cancer for God’s sake. If there’s any time when you should be OK with relying completely on someone else than that’s it. Unfortunately, that’s not how the real world works.

So, as you can see, cancer isn’t just an illness you get – it’s an illness that affects everyone in your orbit. Those of us who have been through it know that better than most but even if you were just diagnosed it’s important to realize that as you are experiencing this major, life-threatening sea change, so are the people who share that life, and it’s vital you keep that in mind. I know, like you have enough to worry about already. Honestly, though, when it comes right down to it you just do the best you can to reach the next day and hopefully you’ll be around to deal with the consequences later. Talk soon.

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