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Patients With Cancer, Survivors and Caregivers Open Up About Being 'Cancer Ghosted'


CURE® surveyed its audience to see if they had people in their life cut off communication after a cancer diagnosis, sometimes known as “cancer ghosting.” Here’s what they had to say.  

Some people don’t always know how to deal with cancer.

Many patients with cancer have discussed the phenomenon of “cancer ghosting,” which is when people become so uncomfortable discussing cancer or cancer treatments, they cut off contact after their friend or family member receives a diagnosis of cancer.

In a recent #CureConnect question, we asked the CURE® audience, “Have you ever experienced friends and family members disappearing after you received your diagnosis? How has it made you feel?” 

Ghosting Leads to Isolation

“I think I actually ghosted other people. I needed all my mental energy to be present for my girl, so I really didn’t communicate with anyone. My solution to being silent was to write about it and share it that way. I suppose my self-imposed isolation let me avoid others walking away.” - Debbie Legault, a caregiver for her daughter who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 and CURE® contributor

“Yes. With many people. They want to remember you the way you ‘were’ and cannot handle the reality of seeing someone look ‘sick.’ Between this and no family beside me — my journey was mostly solo.”-Tracy A., a breast cancer survivor.

“A fellow therapist (said) to me ‘you are a therapist, you know how to fix depression … it’s just cancer, not like you’re going to die, snap out of it.’ People assumed because of my work that I had all the tools I needed and didn’t bother to check-in.

So many I thought cared (were) mostly grief tourists. (The experience) left me bitter, sad, alone… then strong, better with boundaries, more independent.”- Danielle G., a uterine cancer survivor and therapist.

Shock and Self Blame

“Yes, it's something I'm experiencing and wasn't prepared for; it was a huge shock, and one of the things that I struggle to deal with the most. I'm currently getting support from a therapist to help me understand that it's not my fault, but it's hard.”- Helen W., a cancer survivor.

“(The ghosting) wasn’t right at my diagnosis, it waswhen we discovered it had spread to my lymph nodes and I'd need chemo. I guess my friend couldn't handle it. I questioned myself so much about whether I was too much of a burden. (It) took me a year to get over it.” - Jen Q., a person living with stage 2 breast cancer.

“I feel like that since I survived stage 4, (people ask) ‘why didn't you die?’ I've even had doctors say, ‘you must not have been stage 4.’ Yes, I was, and I survived. Can't they just be happy for me?” Julie C., a woman living with stage 4 lung cancer.

Finding More Supportive Communities

Picture of a ghost with the quote: Cancer ghosting is a very common experience that isn't spoken about much. Know that it's not you, it's them.

“Yes. It made me feel like I had done something wrong, when all I did was have cancer. I lived with a sense of guilt and sadness about it until I found the cancer community online. I realized it’s actually a very common experience that isn’t spoken about much. So I have tried to change that and let others know it’s not you it’s most definitely them.”- Chelsey Gomez, a two-time Hodgkin lymphoma survivor and CURE® contributor.

“I have been blessed with friends and family, especially my church family, who've stuck with me through it all. Sometimes it's hard because they don't understand, but they want to and that counts for a lot.”-Kelly I., an ovarian cancer survivor.

Learning People’s True Colors

“I got more support from strangers than my own family and ‘close’ friends. You definitely see people’s true colors when diagnosed with cancer.”- Jennifer B., a survivor of stage 3b colon cancer.

“Unfortunately, (cancer ghosting) is a common experience. I have had a few friends who just weren’t there for me when I thought they would be. And still aren’t. But it makes you appreciate the ones who are even more. (It) still feels awful though.” - Sara A., a person living with multiple myeloma.

“I’ve been cancer ghosted by some of my best friends. They blamed the fear of bringing COVID-19 around me, but they could have called or texted. I’m better without them!”- Amanda L., a breast cancer survivor.

“Yes, but in some cases, it's because I've had to prioritize my own well-being ahead of superficial friendships. My good friends have been awesome throughout.” - Jason M., a patient with stage 3 colon cancer.

“I had several long-term close friends disappear when I was diagnosed, which was incredibly sad and hurtful. I heard through other friends that they didn’t know what to say. Most friends though stepped up and have been kind and supportive.”- Deb S., a woman living with stage 4 lung cancer.

“Yes (I have been) cancer ghosted and it hurts but I also had tons of family and friends that really stepped it up to support me. Even some distant acquaintances become closer friends during that time.

So, you get unexpected blessings that negate the effect (almost) of getting ghosted.”- Constance P., a breast cancer survivor.

If any of these situations sound familiar to you, know that you are not alone. CURE® compiled a guide for patients with cancer, survivors and their caregivers to help find the best mental health care available to them.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

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