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How to strengthen your friendships during cancer treatment

Cancer can take a toll on friendships, but it can also offer opportunities to strengthen old bonds and form new ones.

"Friendship is so powerful during the cancer journey because it can fortify you during a difficult time and transcend whatever experience you are facing,” says Lauren Garvey, MS, CRC, NCC, a counselor and facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “Our friendships are a reminder that we are never as alone as we feel.”

Recognize your friends’ unique gifts

You may have a friend who is nurturing and will go with you to chemotherapy or cook your dinner. You may have another friend who is so funny she makes you forget about cancer and laugh until you cry. Another may take charge by making childcare arrangements or scheduling doctor’s appointments.

“Each friend’s strengths can contribute to your survivorship,” explains Garvey. “You can incorporate different friends into distinct roles in your life. Maybe one friend is someone with whom you have a deep conversation over a cup of coffee, while another will encourage you to get out of the house and go for a walk.”

Addressing awkwardness in friendships

If you have a friend who feels awkward when discussing your cancer diagnosis, know that this is normal and doesn’t mean she isn’t a good friend. If she seems open to it, consider giving her guidance on how to support you.

“If you’re comfortable doing so, address the awkwardness,” recommends Garvey. “The best thing to do is to be as open and honest as possible. Whether you are giving them information about what is going on in your treatment or telling them how you feel, the clearer you can be, the better.”

Use discernment in your friendships

Unfortunately, some people find certain friends are not able to be there for them during the cancer journey.

“If this happens, know that it is in no way a reflection on you or what you mean to that person,” says Garvey. “If someone is avoiding you because they are uncomfortable, that has everything to do with them, not you.”

The best thing you can do is trust your instincts and past experiences with your friends.

“One thing I see a lot is cancer survivors cutting out toxic relationships,” she says. “If you have a relationship that drains you and that person isn’t supportive, it’s okay to cut ties. When we are not at our best and don’t have as much energy as we did before, we have to make decisions about where to spend our energy.”

Cancer can strengthen your friendships

It’s a challenge to allow others to love and support us, but during tough times, you have the opportunity to lean into your friendships for strength, comfort and support.

“I talk to people all the time who think their friends are doing too much for them and they feel guilty,” she says. “So I ask them, what if the roles were reversed? Would you do the same for your friend? The majority say they would.”

Garvey adds, “Anything we go through together, we grow through together.”

Find out more ways to give and receive support during the cancer journey.

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