Relating to people post-diagnosis can be difficult, contributing to the social anxiety that accompanies life with and after cancer. This is something I have struggled with; for example, not wanting to go to parties because I felt like that was all people could see when they looked at me, like I had a huge “CANCER PATIENT” stamp across my forehead.
If you are experiencing this, I can tell you that it does get better with time; your hair will grow back, you will gain or lose weight, and people will see you as “back to normal” again. Of course, we know we’ll never be normal again, and this is something those who haven’t gone through this can’t really understand, though they sympathize.
This feeling of being unable to relate was thrown into sharp relief for me lately. I was in a car with four other women, two considerably younger than myself (high school aged) and the other two around my own age. Listening to their conversations, I found myself unable to really take part; unable or unwilling, I’m not sure which. My concerns are much different than upcoming exams, drama between friends or family members, and issues with teachers. Watching one of them eat my favourite breakfast from Timmies, something I can’t eat anymore, was a reminder of what I have gone through that they haven’t had to; I used to be just like them, and I miss that.
I miss the time when school and friends and boys were my biggest concerns. I miss being able to get through my month, my week, my day, my hour without thinking about cancer and side effects and the possibility of recurrence. I miss the “before-times”.
But I also don’t.
In exchange for who I was, I have gained so much; I have found my strength and my courage. I have become a grown woman who knows herself and what she needs and wants, also what she doesn’t :p I am much better at standing up for and going after those needs and wants. I have met amazing, wonderful, beautiful people and been given incredible opportunities and experiences. I now know who I am and what I am capable of, and that’s something I will never give away or take back. I hope that whatever it is you are going through, whether cancer or something else, that you can look for and discover the stunningly unexpected positives that can come from things that seem only dark and terrifying at first.
So, how to relate to people we both understand and don’t, all at the same time?
Everyone faces challenges, and although your’s and mine may have been worse than those others have encountered, the emotions generated by those experiences are similar; we can all relate to fear and anger and frustration and anxiety and, no matter the cause, we can empathize with them. We can make that understanding the basis of how we relate to one another. It might be difficult, depending on your mood and headspace on any given day, to muster sympathy and empathy for a friend who is upset because their manicure got ruined or their plans were cancelled, but we can easily understand the emotions they are experiencing as a result, regardless of the root of those feelings.
We are all human, and our only chance is to continue to connect on those very human levels. Don’t let cancer or any challenge harden you or turn you away from the love and warmth of others. They understand more than you might think.
Sending love and light and healing to each and every one of you <3