Sunday, December 2, 2007


One of the depressing results of cancer is its impact on friendships. When I was first diagnosed I gave the news to some of my closer friends. Many responded supportively, and some who I knew only moderately well became closer and more supportive upon hearing the news.

But others who I thought I had been close with did not respond at all. For a while I thought that it was a case of finding out who your true friends are in a time of crisis. But then in a cancer support group I learned that there is another common explanation. Sometimes people don't know how to react to a person with cancer. They might think that you want to be left alone, or they're not comfortable dealing with illness or intimacy. Especially in a young group of peers many will not have experienced a friend fighting cancer before.

Cancer has also interfered with forming new friendships. After three years I realize that the vast majority of those close to me are people I met before diagnosis. There are many people who I knew casually before and have gotten to know better since, but there are very few who I have met and developed as friends entirely after diagnosis.

I think one reason is that I appear as a different person while I deal with the disease. Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and the cancer itself all detract from my well-being and the quality of my personality. There are good days and bad days, most days now I am less capable than most days before I got sick. I can't be as active as I want nor as strong, cheerful, talkative, adventurous, intelligent, or productive.

People who knew me before see me as temporarily handicapped and treat me with patience and compassion. Their impression of me was based on my former personality, and if they've known me long enough then three years of illness hasn't brought down my average too much.

But those who've met me recently see a person who is weaker, slower-witted, constrained by unpleasant bodily maladies like nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue. I'm not around as much for work or education. I don't go to scientific conferences or social gatherings as much as I'd like. I have fewer opportunities to meet new people and to get acquainted with those I do.

Actually I think I've done remarkably well during my illness and I'm grateful for feeling as good as I do. And in many ways what hasn't killed really has made me stronger, wiser, and more compassionate. Yet it's still regrettable to think of how much more I could be doing with good health.

1 comment:

ben said...

hi rick, well written. you are not alone, and those friends you hold dear now are the ones who'll stick with you thick and thin. i will keep my eyes on you while you go through this effed up cancer. my wife was recently diagnosed, and i find comfort in reading about the strong who are surviving.
keep your strength for your healing, creating new friendships even for healthy people is quite exhausting ;)

all the best to you, i will stay in touch.