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Lets Discuss...awkward reactions from friends

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Have you noticed that your friends, family or colleagues behave differently around you since being diagnosed? Your mental health may take a toll from these situations. Join in this conversation – let’s discuss how to handle awkward reactions from your friends.



I was diagnosed in December 2015. We choose not to discuss it too much around Christmas as we didn't want to bring anyone down. I found it very stressful as it was this huge elephant in the room. My inlaws especially drove me crazy.

I had a sister in law come for a visit after my mastectomy surgery asking all kinds of questions and then completely turning the conversation to herself and her imaginary MS diagnosis. I was shocked that she would trump my "REAL" breast cancer diagnosis with her imaginary health issues. Thank goodness for treatments as it kept her and her need to be at the centre of attention away from me. Then in the summer she attended a play that my son was in. Three times during a two day exchange she complained about being sick with something. Hello!!! Going through radiation here, cancer patient. I find it funny that most people didn't even know I had cancer but we all know when she has a sniffle. LOL. I just have to laugh.

I have found wonderful support from strangers, teachers at both our kids schools and friends from my church. Also I should mention my male cousins were wonderful. They were so worried about me and were always calling and sending me stuff. One gave me his iphone, another sent me $170 in the mail for me to go away overnight somewhere and another texted me every day. Wow!! Talk about great cousins!

People do all respond differently. I see that. I wonder if I was in their shoes and not the person with the cancer, how would I respond!! I hope to someday find out.

  • Posted Wed 18 Jan 2017 03:17 PM EST
I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2013. I'm a non-smoker. I hard a real hard time understanding How this came to be. Nevertheless as time went on I found telling others was a way for me to become more comfortable with my diagnosis. In time my story became more involved and rich as I was treated, changed my lifestyle, lost weight, and generally changed into a different person, drawing on strengths and discarding negativities. I have been told that I have empowered others, and have been asked to speak. I have found that knowledge is strengthening, in some cases my friends have changed for the positive having heard me. They are closer and supportive. I openly talk about things and find myself answering email and texts constantly. I truly believe that the public is generally unaware of what cancer is, although sadly that is changing. I too am calm and tell it like it is. I feel is is important to be honest and open and with that hope to enlighten others around me. On the cancer bike ride I have a yellow flag that says I am a survivor, implying that the battle is over. As I ride the ride people yell out "congratulations" With a smile I respond "I am surviving!". Subtle, but usually starts a conversation.
  • Posted Thu 19 Jan 2017 11:17 PM EST
Sorry to hear about your sister-in-laws' attitude. If it helps, I don't think this is all that uncommon. I had HPV throat cancer last summer and while I had many supportive friends I also encountered a few people who acted as though I had the flu, and then went right on to talking about their own 'problems'. Hang in there and remember to be kind to yourself.
  • Posted Thu 19 Jan 2017 04:47 PM EST
I have been very open about having cancer. The Serenity Prayer came to mind when I got the diagnosis - which I was anticipating - and a calmness washed over me. When I tell people, I am very calm. It is what it is.

Now some people react with horror and it shows on their faces. To these people, I am already on death row. I thought about that today and I think they are facing and fearing their own mortality most.

Other people want to tell you their "war" stories: someone they know who has cancer or died from it. Because we're all having the same thing, like measles.

Other people are shocked but sorry. There may be hugs or tears.

Some, like my adult kids, are full of questions, which I welcome. Actually, it is one thing I offered everyone, if they had any questions.

What I hated: but you don't look sick... well, my niece had cancer, we just buried her... I can't get over how good you look, are they sure? aunt had breast cancer and they...My reply: none. just um-hum...
  • Posted Thu 17 Nov 2016 01:51 AM EST
Great insights here. My heartfelt sympathies to those who have experienced some real adverse reactions, that's awful plain and simple.

The best guidance I ever got in terms of how to deal with people (and how they will deal with you) came from the website I believe, it noted there are three categories of people in terms of how they'll react to you having the diagnosis:

- people who seem to have the ability to know exactly how to react and what to say. These people are like a godsend, I'm incredibly thankful that my parents, in-laws and wife typically fall into this category

- people who want to acknowledge what you've gone through but don't really know how to react and/or what to say. I feel for this people, it's obviously not an ideal situation and they feel like no matter how they react they aren't doing you justice. But at least they try and damn, I always respected them for it.

- the people who ignore and/or don't really react. While we see these people as "acting cold" or ignoring us, in reality they often just can't deal with you being in pain or suffering and don't know how to deal with it. When you feel like someone is isolating you, try to keep this part in mind (I know it's not easy). I had a few colleagues at work who were like this initially but I was able to engage them like I did before - sometimes things weren't the same again, sometimes they were. Such is life sometimes!
  • Posted Thu 03 Nov 2016 04:31 PM EDT
When I was first diagnosed I took a few days to think about how/who should know. I sent an email to my immediate familly and closest friends. A message which took me three days to prepare. It was straight forward and to the point, what the treatment would be, and that I was okay with it all. I encouraged any questions they may have and answered their questions, plainly and promptly. The fact that I was comfortable talking about it, put them at ease for the most part, to ask what questions they needed to ask.
At this point it was a need to know basis. As time went on and I lost my hair, My situation started to attract attention in town. People I ran into looked at me curiously, or didn't know how to be around me. Some asked directly what was going on. I decided that it was easier to put the word out to a few key friends, knowing how news travels in a small town, so that people wouldn't feel awkward when they ran into me. Some still were but it didn't take long before the whole town knew and I was always open to answer any questions as simply as possible. I found that if I reacted casually about it, it put people at ease and they weren't as awkward around me.
  • Posted Thu 19 Jan 2017 08:08 PM EST
This is a great break down of how people respond. Very insightful-thanks mchesher
  • Posted Thu 19 Jan 2017 05:12 PM EST
When I was first diagnosed a little over two months ago, I had a hard time telling people because I was concerned about how they would react. Most of my friends, colleagues and family members now know and in general, they've been pretty good - and some have been extremely helpful. The main issue for me are those people who are constantly asking questions about my treatments, my prognosis, etc. etc. etc. I have made it clear to people that I don't really want to talk about cancer, but some people just don't listen...
  • Posted Tue 25 Oct 2016 12:14 PM EDT
Hi Donna, that's really unfortunate that some people tend to "pry". I have only had one example of that myself, someone I had never met before at a social function (engagement party) was far too interested in my treatments, etc. It's awkward! Personally, I have no problems with discussing any of it with closer friends and family - in fact I typically find I don't get asked much at all (which is fine). This one time sort of took me aback a little, I don't think I (or any of us) really "owe" anyone this story if we don't want to share. My wife was quite put off my this individual but regardless, it sucks when it happens!
  • Posted Thu 19 Jan 2017 05:08 PM EST
Liz. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and have successfully gone through surgery,chemo and radium, I was not supported by my family and I also feel anger but mainly hurt. I became independent which has given me a sense of self worth.To battle cancer you have to become strong,so to you all I send a heart felt hug.
  • Posted Sun 09 Oct 2016 01:10 AM EDT
I am so sorry you have no support from your family! That's terrible! My family is very supportive of me and my decisions but I have certainly found that people who I considered to be very good friends have walked away and not even bothered once to ask how I am. I was diagnosed in may with IDC stage 1 . I had a lumpectomy in June but when I found out about rad side effects, I decided to have a mastectomy. That was on Oct. 6 . I am thankful for the friends I have to have stayed by me and my family who keeps me strong! It is sad that a lot of people turn their backs. continue to be strong! Sending hugs
  • Posted Thu 20 Oct 2016 07:01 PM EDT

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