Friendships Lost and Found: Going Public with Cancer


"For every ear turned away, there’s a shoulder to lean on."

There aren’t many guarantees when it comes to having cancer. One of the only things you can be sure of is that you will really need the support of family and friends to get through the coming weeks, months and years.

Unfortunately, not every friendship can survive the challenge of having cancer. I’m not talking about losing a friend to the disease - I’m talking about losing friends because YOU have the disease.

It’s not very easy to think or talk about, but losing friends is a harsh reality for many young adults dealing with cancer and its tolling aftermath. First, I’d just like to acknowledge my friends that have stuck around and been there throughout my cancer journey for the past two-and-a-half years. Their overwhelming support, understanding and acceptance has been invaluable.

But for every amazing, caring friend, there’s another who has drifted away. The one who wholeheartedly promised, “if you need anything, I’m here,” and wasn’t. The one who always jumped at the idea of making plans with you, yet moved on to ignoring you completely. There are some friends, for whatever reason, who won’t be there for you, even if you really want them or need them in your corner.

There’s not much else to say other than it really sucks. It’s the worst feeling to have someone who used to be the first person you called turn into someone who cringes and makes excuses to leave a conversation when cancer is brought up.

I wish there was some cure-all advice I could offer from my experience, like a Top 10 list of things to say that’ll make all your friends stay, or a way to erase the drifters from memory so the pain of losing their friendship isn’t added to the emotional and physical monster you’re already facing. Actually, it seems like no advice is the best advice — there’s nothing you can do.

If a friend ghosts you when you’re sick, then it’s not you, it’s them. You’ve been dealt a rather difficult hand to play and there will simply be some people who can’t deal with it. Seeing you without hair or having to hear about irregular bowel habits as a response to “how are you feeling?” might turn some people off.

And that’s okay.

Cancer is really good at making you feel like the smallest being on the planet. Having longtime friends start ditching you simultaneously mixes a toxic cocktail for your emotions. But if I’ve learned anything from this involuntary experience, it’s that your true friends and supporters will emerge in full force. For every unanswered text, there’s someone at your door with romantic comedies and peach rings. For every ear turned away, there’s a shoulder to lean on.

Embrace the support from the people who do stay and the new friends you make throughout your journey. Take a moment to relish the strength that each relationship has gained, because when you reach a point where your treatments turn into annual follow-up visits and you can catch your breath, it’ll be incredibly reassuring to know that everyone who is in your life is 100 percent on your side.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.