You can listen to this articles below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/buddiesforlife
Gabriella Kourie shares several ways to adjust your social life and relationships during active cancer treatment.
After a cancer diagnosis, it’s probable that your social life may have some changes. The diagnosis itself can be isolating and you may not feel up to doing activities or going to social settings that you once enjoyed. Patients often feel this way, either due to physical and emotional weakness. During treatment, side effects may keep you homebound and your immune system dictates where you can and can’t go (no one wants a secondary infection or to delay the process of treatment).
There are days where you feel physically strong, but the emotional toll of treatment is something that burdens most patients. Cancer is scary and it’s a challenging diagnosis. It takes time for you to process what is happening to yourself, let alone explain it to someone else. On the days where you feel the darkest and most alone, there are ways to break the cycle and spend time with family and friends and even do the things you enjoy through adaptive and precautionary ways.
Ways to tweak your social life
- Make time for your family and friends during treatment. Even if you can’t go out with them to public places, have them over in small groups during the periods where you are feeling well.
- It’s important to protect yourself from germs and infections. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask your loved ones to not hug or kiss you as well as to disinfect their hands before making physical contact. We should all be used to using sanitiser post-COVID and it’s a small effort for family and friends to make to keep you safe.
- Once you’re more familiar with your body and how you respond to treatment in terms of side effects, you’ll know the best time for visitors. For example, the first two days after treatment may be when you feel the most nauseous; wait until day three or four before you ask for visitors.
- Treatment sessions are usually long, so this is also a good time to invite a selective friend to sit with you and catch-up to make the time go faster.
- Technology has also made the world a lot smaller. Scheduling a video or voice call can also keep you connected with the family and friends you have time and energy for.
- Make new friends in the oncology room. The beauty of having treatment in an open room is that you’re surrounded by people who are going through a similar struggle. Speaking to them and asking for advice and tips will only benefit you in moving forward, motivating you to reach milestones (such as the halfway treatment mark or good scans) together.
Dating is another aspect of social life that needs to be adjusted. However, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to stop your dating life. Telling your existing partner and a possible new one should be done when you’re comfortable in doing so.
Regarding body image and self-esteem, you may be adapting to scars, weight changes, the loss of a breast or other body part, or other changes to your body. Some parts of your body might not work the way they used to. This can leave you feeling self-conscious about going out or about being intimate with a partner. Allow yourself to mourn what you’ve lost.
Support groups and counselling as well as consulting with a sex specialist are encouraged. Communication is key in your dating life. Most people, unless they have been through something similar, will not know how to communicate and interact with you. It’s your job to tell them what you need and what you expect from the relationship.
Although being with friends and family can boost your spirits during cancer treatment, it’s also important to take time for yourself. You may have a lot of well-meaning friends and acquaintances you haven’t seen in a while reach out to you. Yes, they are worried about you and want you to know they care, but you don’t have to see or visit with all of them if you don’t feel up to it. This is where your communication is essential; explain that you are the same person and that you don’t want the relationship dynamic to change. Alternatively, explain that you’re not up to seeing or speaking to them, the people that care about you most will not take offence and will be there when you’re ready to reach out. Take time for yourself to relax and rest.
MEET THE EXPERT – Gabriella Kourie
Gabriella Kourie is a qualified occupational therapist. She further trained and qualified as a PORi oncology and breast cancer rehabilitation therapist and is currently qualifying in Lymphoedema Assessment and Treatment.
Header image by Adobe Stock