When the dark shadow of cancer looms, a few home truths will hit you: some of your friends may prove unreliable. Put plainly, you discover they are just not friends.
I've yet to meet a cancer survivor who didn't experience a Friend-Fallout of some kind or another. And it made me wonder: what leads to these breakups?
So here are some prejudices we face, in the rather ironic form of Bad Friend Stereotypes...
The Body Shamer
They’ve never experienced ill health; their empathy somewhat lacking.
They like to impart useless information, whether professing the curative effects of lemons, or preaching against the devilry of sugar.
They spend an awful lot of energy ridiculing the sick, deluded in the belief that by pointing out to people that they're ill and fat, their comments will magically cure them. Needless to say, they don’t understand that people might be overweight due to steroids for cancer treatment. Or can’t walk to the shop, let alone run at the gym.
Good-Timers are only around for fun. When you couldn’t respond to messages; couldn’t attend parties or big events; couldn't go to the pub, they’ll have soon given you up.
When you resurface, their lives have moved on. They've got more fun-loving friends now.
And if you bump into them, sure, they make overtures of friendship, but their awkward smiles imply quite the opposite.
Deep in their unconscious mind, they know they're a Bad Friend. Seeing you only reminds them of this, and they'd rather not face that, thanks.
These are the people who can’t handle illness and don’t know what to say, or do. They’ve stayed away from the beginning, perhaps due to their own experiences with hospitals, or due to their own mental health.
The mere mention of cancer makes them panic, shudder, and run for their duvet.
They might creep out when it’s Remission-Time. It’s up to you whether you take them back.
Charity-Case Seekers are just around for the thrill of doing some good.
They might be the ringleaders that turn you into a crusader, setting you up as some brave hero. You're a warrior, Grrr! Yet the more you adopt this persona, the less opportunity you’ll have to share how you really feel – to acknowledge your fears, or insecurities.
Never fear, Charity-Case Seekers will slink away as soon as treatment finishes to move onto their next hapless victim. Or maybe they get bored a few months in.
The Bitter Danger
With time, you can look back on ex-friends with a little wryness, a shrug of the shoulders, a determination to embrace The Important Ones: the friends who didn't let you down. But in the early days it's hard not to mourn their loss. You feel abandonment, even betrayal.
After the loss of a few friends, I found I was more inclined to just sack people off for every slight. Bitterness was taking over. And that’s the real danger. You feel more inclined to judge people. Abandonment from a few can make you disillusioned with the many. And of course, this isn't the answer.
Yet cancer gives us a chance to reconsider what relationships we do want: to be proactive, to make choices, rather than accepting a friendship with someone hurtful, just because we happened to be lumped in their class when we were five.
So don’t dwell on the Body-Shaming Cretins with an Eeyore bend to your head and a bucket-load of self-loathing. Take Oscar Wilde’s advice: ‘Laughter is not at all a bad beginning to a friendship, and it is by far the best ending for one.’
Smile. Hold your head high. Leave them behind. Go embrace the brave new world of untold friendships.
It is so hurtful when friends and family turn their backs on you - especially family. It is a lonely place but then you realise it is for the best as they are so negative and are not helping. It is the unexpected people who surprise you by their kindness and stick with you. Actually found this when my son had a kidney transplant and family went silent as they could not understand what was going on and did not know what to say. That was very hurtful when we needed support but those who stuck with us are very special.