Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Ann Harper moderator
    2 months ago

    Good thoughts! We can’t let cancer take any more of our lives than necessary.

    5 months ago

    Upon being diagnosed, I wrote a long (hopefully) humorous piece on Facebook about the night I ended up in the ER after being directed there by my GP. The responses were very positive. I later started a blog that sometimes discusses leukemia, sometimes other topics. Because my friends can be updated if they want to be, I can spend less time talking about it. I have learned over time to turn the conversation to “how are you?” As soon as possible.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    2 months ago

    Having a blog is a great idea and allows friends to be updated. When I’m out, I rarely talk about my cancer. I dont want it to be the focus and we’re there to have fun.

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    5 months ago

    You and I have some things in common then. I too have a blog called “Me and Leuk” that is a journal about my life with leukemia but also just everyday things. Like you, I’ve found it best to focus on my friend’s lives when talking to them. It helps our relationships feel more normal.

  • Denny
    5 months ago

    I’ve had CLL for 4 years my wife of course knows so do my daughters and her family.My supervisor knows and only 2 other people. I don’t share that information with anyone as I’m afraid if it gets out I might lose some of my builder contacts.I’m in the insulation business and it’s a dog fight in construction anyway. I wear my orange bracket plus my granddaughter made me one so I wear them both. I think about my cancer everyday and it’s not a bad thing, I just know how I feel and that’s pretty good right now. I’m currently at stage 0 no medication my WBC count is at 25. I see my Dr. currently every 6 months for check up and complete CBC. When I go see him for the last 4 years he tells me I’m boring and you don’t know how glad I like hearing that. I know it will change in time because it’s a chronic disease, but for now I can deal with it. I stay as active as I can I’m at work 10 to 12 hours a day plus I tournament fish. Thanks for letting me share my story.

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    5 months ago

    Hi Denny. I also have CLL. I’ve had it for 9 years. Though my blood count is higher than yours I am still at 0 too and continue to “watch and wait” as they say. Wow, you put in 10 to 12 hours at work… you’re a better man than me. So, tell me, what’s the biggest fish you’ve caught and what type of fish. Salmon?

  • Denny
    5 months ago

    Oh forgot my biggest Bass is 9 pounds still trying for the double digit.

  • Denny
    5 months ago

    No Jim I live in West Texas so I Bass fish.So your WBC count is higher than mine and your still stage 0, that is fantastic too know. I will know for sure in 6 more days, as you can see I kinda count down the days. I have been getting tired more lately, but my wife says it’s because I work 10 or more hours aday and that I’m almost 64. It seems like after I eat lunch I’m exhausted but I work through it. Thanks for responding Jim. Good luck too you and keep writing. Thanks Denny

  • Harry
    5 months ago

    My initial response to my diagnosis was self pity and emotional withdrawal. I didn’t want to be around people because I didn’t want to be reminded about my illness. My wife, who is a formidable Italian woman, snapped me out of my depression. She said that ” I better not die or that she would kill me !” After I stopped laughing, it occurred to me that I always overcame adversity with humor and a positive attitude. I come in contact with many people in the course of my work day. I have noticed that some are ill at ease when they are informed of my condition. I inform them that it is just another pothole in the road of life. I put them at ease. They know that I will have good days and bad, but I will be positive and humorous.
    I would like to add a post script. Several people have approached and thanked me for giving them the inspiration to deal with similar situations. Also, I have made many new friends by being open and forthright about my illness and treatments. Cancer scares the hell out of people. By avoiding you, they think that they can avoid cancer. Put them at ease and tell them that it is just another pothole in the journey of life.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    5 months ago

    @harry I’m so happy your wife snapped you out of your reality back to the ability to press through this adversity. Hey, people are either their totally or they’re not… and that’s okay, as long as they don’t bring you down in depression. Your journey is about positivity and extreme commitment to fight to the fullest.
    Keep at covering those potholes.

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    5 months ago

    You, like me, are very lucky to have a strong wife. I know without mine this leukemia thing would be a lot harder to weather. Also, I’m glad to see you are using humor. I believe it not only puts others at ease, but also helps yourself. Thanks for reading my posts.

  • bluchs
    6 months ago

    Sadly, I can relate to this article.
    When I first got sick, I was working, but I got so sick, so fast, I could not work any more.
    My boss asked me, if She could tell my co workers, that they were worried, why I was gone all of a sudden?
    So I of course said OK.
    Many did reach out to me, but others, Whom I expected to , did not?
    Some of my friends rushed to my side, others did avoid me.
    Some surprised me, people I never would have expected to be here, were here for me?
    Others, who I thought would be here were not.
    I even have 1 brother, to this day,who has not as much as sent me a card, or a phone call, nothing, while my other brother has traveled over 2400 miles round trip, 6 times now in 3&1/2 years to be with me? Plus he calls me all the time.
    I have sent cards and emails to those who have avoided me, to say, I Love them, and I will be OK, but still nothing?
    While others, make a huge effort to comfort me, even some, I have not seen in decades?
    So I just figure that some people, just don’t know what to say, so they say nothing?
    I still pray for them, I won’t let my disease define who I am, nor who they are, once a friend, always a friend, I just try to understand??
    It Is, What It Is!
    I try not to be sad or lonely, but it is an effort at times??
    All I can do is to keep on trying, and praying for the best, for me, and my friends.
    I won’t give up.

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    6 months ago

    I’m sorry you’ve experienced this. It is very common so you are not alone. I’ve experienced the same thing. All you can do is be grateful for all those people who do stay in touch.

  • Poll