Cancer Is Lonely Enough, Don't Do Cancer Alone

A two-time cancer survivor suggests ways new patients can find support to cope with survival.

Cancer is a lonely disease. This disease is a life-changing experience compared to the daily events of the family and friends that surround you. They want to help, and yet they just may not always understand what you are experiencing — at least that is how I felt. Cancer feels isolating and can be very hard during the moments when you just want to talk to someone who “gets it.”

As a two-time survivor who is over five and half years out from my first cancer, I would encourage newly diagnosed cancer survivors not to do cancer alone. Find someone, or better yet, multiple someones to discuss and process your cancer experiences.

Ideally, a live support group with real live fellow cancer survivors would be helpful, but know that the success of a group can also vary with the group leader and general dynamic of the group. If you don’t feel comfortable at the first meeting, you may find the experience completely different at another time. If you are in a larger metro area, it may be possible to shop around for a group that has the consistently has the right vibe to help you.

Not in a big metro area? You may find an online group that is supportive. An online group can be a good place to get opinions. Just remember that opinions are just that and everyone’s cancer experience and medical history is unique. Another thing to be aware of is this: There are not as many posts by people who are doing well as people who have worries.

This means people with a cancer similar to yours who are doing well may not be active in an online group because things are going well for them. People having problems will be out there seeking support and you may stumble onto more unhappiness, fear or worry than you want to find. You may also find encouragement. Be cautious.

You also may be able to connect with someone with a similar diagnosis who is further out in their experience (I won’t say “journey” because sometimes that word is overused with cancer). People like that can make great emotional mentors. It might also be possible to connect with a fellow patient who is at a point similar to your own. In this situation, you can help make cancer less lonely for one another as you support each other through the tough times.In addition, you may find support in your faith community or a friend of a friend who knows someone who had your kind of cancer. There are also talk therapists who can be a good sounding board for what you experience. Some specialize in patients with cancer, so ask your doctor. A talk therapist, one that is a fit for you, offers an objective perspective about what you are feeling that may, at times, be more helpful or insightful than comments by well-meaning loved ones and friends. Again, it may require shopping around to find the right fit.

I still repeat: Don’t do cancer alone, but in the same breath, I also ask you to be discerning. There may be some help that is helpful and some help that isn’t, and unfortunately that can include people. Some people around you may step up to the plate and others may rub you the wrong way during your cancer treatment. Be kind to yourself. Be picky for your own sake if and/or when you need to be.

Do reach out for help and do feel free to shy away from the company of those who aren’t helpful as you go through cancer treatment. Their inability to “get it” isn’t your fault. You deserve the right kind of support and it may take some effort and work to find it, but it will be important and worthwhile that you do. You deserve it!