Telling Friends

When I first received the news that I had leukemia I didn’t want to tell anyone. I told my family of course, but not my friends. I was worried they would look at me differently. Maybe their discomfort with my condition would drive them away. I even asked my wife to keep quiet.

That lasted about a month until she set me straight. My wife needed to share what she was going through. Not being able to talk to her friends about it was not fair to her. She needed support. And, since she is a strong Icelandic woman with a Viking heritage, I quickly lost the argument.

You may have heard others with cancer say how their friends just sort of drifted away. Maybe a close friend stuck by them but others stopped visiting. The social network faded. The loss of friends can be hard. You may feel hurt, sad, or even angry: What is wrong with them? How could they leave? Why are they being so selfish?

Consider your friends' perspective

Well, I suppose that is one way to look at it. But I believe thinking that way is, in itself, selfish. Consider their perspective. Suddenly they’ve learned their friend is sick with a potentially terminal disease. How should they act around you? What can they say? Should they bring it up or pretend leukemia doesn’t exist? What if they say the wrong thing and make it worse?

The day my wife insisted on letting our friends know got me to thinking about all this. What was going to happen when I let the floodgate open? The truth is some friends did start avoiding me. My social circle began shrinking. The very thing I feared was happening.

But then it occurred to me. How did I get those friends in the first place? Most of them didn’t just show up from nowhere. I reached out. We found common interests and, without even trying, I spent more time with them. Together we nurtured that friendship.

Make an effort to retain your relationships

I think it is our responsibility, not theirs, to make our friends feel comfortable around us. Talk openly about your disease when they ask questions but don’t make it the main topic of discussion. Do what you did when you first met them. Ask them about their lives. How are they doing? What are their kids up to? In other words, put the focus on them. Make an effort to ease their reticence. Look at it as if they are a new friend who is just getting to know you.

Being sad or hurt is a choice. Being lonely is a choice. You can also choose the opposite.

The only one I don’t try to befriend is Leuk. (That’s what I call my leukemia.) He’s not in charge of my life. I am. He only has power if I give it to him. I will never let him chase away my friends and neither should you.

Show them that, despite your disease, you are still you.

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