Tuesday, 23 November 2010

It’s a curious thing

Yes, a very curious thing how having cancer can inflict change not just on the person who has to live through it, but those around them too and sadly it is not always for the better. I am lucky that I have a very supportive husband and family, it’s just a shame that I cannot say that about all those I thought of as friends. 

Some friends have just found it all very difficult to cope with and because they either can’t think of the right things to say or are scared of saying the wrong thing, they stay away. Not very nice, but sad rather than upsetting or annoying. Then however we have an entirely different set of ‘friends’ these are the people you have known for a long time, perhaps trusted a great deal and supported when they went through their own difficult times. These are the people who see that you are vulnerable and rather than stepping in to offer help, comfort, support, they take advantage of your situation and use it to their own advantage. It’s a sad but very common occurrence and whilst yes, like anyone else I have known betrayal in the past because that is life, I was not prepared for the fact that someone would deliberately use my current situation to behave in a morally reprehensible fashion, waiting until just a few days prior to my surgery to turn on me in a very cruel way.

What is it about human nature that makes it possible for us to do this to each other? Is it some baser animal instinct that recognises ‘weakness’ and sees it as an opportunity for gain? There must be an element of that involved, I am sure of it, particularly when seemingly pleasant and ordinary people behave in the most spectacularly bad way, something they’d never do if they thought you were capable of retaliating. Speaking to others in the same situation I came to realise that I am in no way unique. Many had similar stories to tell; whether it was work colleagues behaving badly, friends or family being perfidious, somehow it seems to be a less than savoury result of one having cancer and telling people about it. 

For me it was a very bitter pill to swallow. I am not naive, you don’t get to my age and do some of the jobs I’ve done and still have your ‘innocence’ intact, but I admit to being shocked at the callous way a very small element of my friends have behaved and found it very curious that they felt they could do this with impunity – they can’t. Initially I thought I could try to forgive and forget but then I realised that I was perhaps sanctioning their behaviour by doing so. As a result I won’t be ignoring it but whilst I see battling it out with them as rather futile (who wants to be doing this whilst going through chemo?) it is something I won’t and can’t forget.

Looking at the opposite of all this is the wonderful fact that many people who I have thought of as acquaintances rather than friends have proved themselves to be friends indeed (and deed!). I have been touched and in some cases very moved by the support that I’ve received from those people and it made me realise that ‘friendship’ is something that is not so easily defined. How warming it has been to receive such wonderful messages of care and support; it helps restore my faith in the basic goodness that most people have.

To those who choose to stay away rather than risk offence with a miss-chosen word, I would say that even the smallest of contacts is reassuring. If you don’t want to phone then sending a card, an email or even a text shows that you do care and that you haven’t forgotten what your friend is going through. You would be surprised and I think gratified, if you knew just how much even the smallest gesture of support is appreciated.


  1. I hope some of your friends have since come around. My cancer is my blessing- it has taught me to not be afrid or uncomfortable with the disease. I hope that I can always remember how some people accidently made me feel, and show a different attitude.

  2. I've written off those that didn't come around as there doesn't seem much point in trying to keep in touch. I really have learned a lot about dealing with people and also about being open and frank about having cancer. If that helps those around me to deal with it better, then it can only be a good thing.