Family Time & Friendships During Cancer

Imagine the sound of the teacher from Charlie Brown. That's all I can hear. "I'm going to put you on speakerphone. Can you please repeat that?" Invasive ductal carcinoma. At 32, I was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer. At the time, I had no idea what that diagnosis meant. I also had no idea that it was possible to have 14 doctor's appointments in 14 days. 

Things can get overwhelming very quickly after a cancer diagnosis. 

Cancer is a time to be selfish. Not in a self-centered or entitled way. In a "put your own oxygen mask on first" way. You can't fill from an empty cup. This is not the time for people-pleasing. It's a great time to put your blinders on and focus on you. Here's how I went about taking time for family & friends during cancer treatment.  

The Two Best Things You Can Do During Treatment

1. Spend more time with your friends and family!
2. Spend less time with your friends and family. 

Immediately after my diagnosis, I trusted my boyfriend with looking up information for me. I knew it would be easy to go down a rabbit hole searching for information about my cancer. I also knew that I would find many unhelpful things in that search that would just make me spiral and stress. Knowing that stress is very, very bad for you, I wanted to keep my stress as low as possible in this already-hectic time. So, when I wanted to find out information about something related to my treatment, I requested that my boyfriend search the internet for me and relay only the information that I needed. This was the BEST thing I did that soon in my treatment journey. 

When I reflect on my cancer journey, I cherish both the time I spent and the time I did not spend with my family. My parents drove down over 600 miles to be with me as soon as I told them I was diagnosed. I tried to convince them not to, thinking I'd need their support more later. I'm so grateful they didn't listen to me. I had no idea how quickly things would escalate after my diagnosis. 

My siblings came down to visit me before I started chemo. We had so much fun celebrating the chance to be with one another in person. We went wig shopping; a first for all of us. When we walked into the wig store, we were told that there was a two-wig try-on limit due to COVID restrictions. The shop owner was extremely helpful as we were overwhelmed by all the wig options and had no idea where to start. He made marvelous wig suggestions, doing better than any of us would have. I told him about my cancer diagnosis, and he said I could try on as many wigs as I needed. We went with his wig recommendation and bought the same wig in four different colors. 

My family listened to my concerns. They helped me gather my thoughts and ask questions when I needed to. They kept me accountable when it came to speaking up about what I didn't understand. They let me vent when I needed to and were my biggest cheerleaders. They were also understanding when I had to play the cancer card and just be alone for a while. I had to miss holiday family gatherings one year due to finishing chemo and being a few weeks away from a double mastectomy during the holidays, and they never pushed me to extend past my limits. 

It's weird watching life move on without you when you're in treatment. Those around you are enjoying their holiday celebrations, and you're just sick of being sick. Friends post their milestones on Facebook. A pregnancy announcement. An engagement. A wedding. The birth of a child. An anniversary. A birthday. A vacation. Graduation. A new job. Around you, the world is constantly celebrating something. And all you want is to be able to taste food. To feel normal again. To have energy. To get through the day. To be able to recall words that you once knew. 

Before cancer, I never understood the term "toxic positivity. By the time I had two rounds of chemo left, I began to understand it. I'd complain about my chemo side effects and people would say "You only have two rounds left!" "You only have one round left!" I would get so frustrated and think "then you go do the round!" I just wanted to feel heard and understood. I didn't want to see the bright side of the situation. I wasn't giving up, I just wanted to vent. I wanted to be grumpy and have that be okay.

We move through our emotions when we feel our feelings. I didn't want to stay in my negativity. I just wanted to be ok to share my feelings so I could move on from them. I wish people were taught how to communicate better in tough situations. Someone said to me "I thought you were supposed to lose weight when you have cancer," and yet another asked "Is your boyfriend okay with you losing your hair?"

All of your relationships change when you have cancer. Some improve, others don't. During and beyond treatment is a great time to reevaluate what's important to you in a relationship. Who do you want to spend more time with; who should you spend less time with? Life is short. Life is fragile. Spend more time with people who make you light up. Tell people that you appreciate them. Make time for what makes you happy. 

Photo courtesy of the author.