Breast Cancer, Chemotherapy, Friends, Relationships, Anger and Loss

From the minute you are diagnosed with Breast Cancer or any type of cancer, a huge shift happens within your relationships.   The overwhelming majority of your family and friends run immediately toward you and stay there with you the entire time of your surgery and treatment.  But a few run for the hills never to return.

Let’s start with by far the majority which are those family and friends who have run toward me.  I have been shocked and amazed by their love, encouragement, cards, visits, flowers, gifts, rides to treatment, timely telephone calls, vigilant emails, eloquent and caring letters, professions of love and caring, gifts of food, prayers, Masses, saying Novenas for me, physically assisting me post-surgery, offers to go to grocery store, taking me to the grocery store, and overall outpouring of support and love.  Not one of them has said, “call me if you need anything” and walk away.  Instinctively, they have just done it.  An old and cherished friend calls me at least 3 times per week and asks what she can do for me.  If I can’t think of anything, she always just does something!   It is unbelievable to me!  One friend who has driven me 120 miles round trip to treatment on many occasions told me since we couldn’t take our walks in the park anymore, this was the next best thing since we had time together!   Some things I have found unsolicited in my door -muffins, cookies, casseroles, vegetarian dishes, banana bread, daffodils, and magazines.   I haven’t had to call or ask.  It has humbled me and given me reason to live.  I try and stay focused on these friends and relationships because it really helps my healing!   And I now know how much they care about me!   Their actions spoke loudly and clearly.

I’ve also learned that greeting cards are not a thing of the past.    One friend I’ve talked about has sent me a card every week for since diagnosis, and she continues much to my delight!  Plus, I’ve had over a dozen people send me 4 to 10 greeting cards each – funny, serious, you name it.   I have had over 250 total cards sent to me by friends, relatives, and strangers!  They always lift my spirits, and I have appreciated the effort that has gone into each and every card.

Then I had some renewed friends run toward me.  Friends that were just acquaintances before or friends who have been out of my world for sometime, but suddenly, they have been there for me in ways I could have never imagined.  I have found that these “renewed friends” are people who have been through an awful lot in their own lives, know what it is like, and step up to help you.  These renewed friends are great gifts.   One “renewed friend” from high school sent me a great artistic placque with a butterfly and on its body it said, “Hello Courage”.   It summed up exactly what I needed on the day it arrived.  I knew she had been through alot in her life as her instincts were so in tuned to someone in need.    I truly will never forget the day I opened it as it was so timely in its arrival.  And another renewed friend that I’ve known almost my entire life, has visited me on four occasions, brought me the most thoughtful gifts, and given me the best medical, cancer and surgical advice I’ve gotten from anyone.  She has been through surgery several times, didn’t have alot of support, knew how isolating that felt, and extended her support to me.

Then there was an acquaintance who is now a friend.  She was diagnosed with Breast Cancer very close to the time I was diagnosed.  She has been an enormous gift to me as she is always one step ahead of me giving me strength, encouragement and cheering me on!

I know I will never forget each and every kindness, act of love and charity that has been bestowed upon me.  It has touched  my heart and soul, has helped heal me, and added years to my life.   I am eternally grateful for the people God sent to love me.  I hope and pray I will never again say casually to someone, “call me if you need me” but simply do something for them in their hour of need.

So now we have to address the few who run for the hills never to return.  The biggest thing I have learned are these relationships are a painful but a necessary loss.   The more I am able to think about it in an objective fashion without hurt and anger, I realize it is precisely these relationships that were draining me and not life giving anyway.  Cancer just brought clairity to these relationships.   If I am really honest with myself, I was doing the majority of the giving.     I was being used in feeding their needs, but they had no desire to reciprocate.  The relationships were not healthy ones.  But it still hurts, and it still causes much anger and resentment.

So how do I move past this?   Well, I haven’t gotten to this point yet, but I definitely need to speak the fact that their “running for the hills” hurt me.   I don’t have any room in my life for the hill runners, and there are more than one, but I have a desire to speak the truth to them with love.    I need to address it with them in a healthy way for me, cut the ties, and end the pattern of the relationship.  I need to say directly:  “I felt totally unsupported by you during the worst time of my life.  It deeply hurt me and caused me great pain and anguish.”   If they make excuses, I will have the facts to support my claim.   But I am not going to expend alot of energy with them or turn it into a big drama session.   They chose to speak their truth to me by their choices.

I was particularly sensitive to these hurtful relationships during Adriamyacin Chemotherapy as I felt so needy and was so sick.   It also taught me that when you have so little energy to give, it is far easier to see where you were giving your energy in unhealthy ways before diagnosis.   I don’t want to do this any longer.

So I am trying to celebrate the old friends who were there for me in huge ways, the new and renewed friends I have made, and even celebrate the lost friends because those relationships weren’t healthy for me anyway.  I believe I have worked through the anger and will come out of this much healthier than when I went into it physically, spiritually, and emotionally.



  1. I am honored to be a “renewed friend”, Denise. My love and admiration for you as a beautiful, brave woman is ongoing, as are my daily prayers. God bless your day . . .

  2. I googled ” friend who abandon you when you have cancer” and found this wonderful blog! Yes, I feel huge resentment against my friends that have basically been using me for their own needs and now that I am in need they have run. I am trying to remove the “they will get theirs in the end” thoughts but it is hard. I even have family members that have done the same. Heartbreaking. God speed to all who are suffering or have a loved one suffering!

    • Thank you so much for writing. It is SO COMMON, but so shocking at the same time, isn’t it?
      I cannot tell you the number of cancer patients who have written me that friends and family
      literally ran from them. I still can’t believe mine did! It is so heartbreaking. I am so
      sorry it happened to you. I am thankful this helped you. My best, Denise

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