7 Reasons Why Friends Might Abandon You During Cancer, And How To Cope

Cancer is a thief. It steals your health. It steals your energy. Often it steals your hair. And, more often than is talked about, it steals your friends. Dear friends steal away in the midst of treatment, leaving you wondering what happened to your loved ones in your time of greatest need.

It’s not uncommon, this exodus of friends. Moya St. Leger was diagnosed with breast cancer at 79, and suddenly many of her lifelong friends stopped contacting her. She writes, “No cancer patients should be expected to have compassion and show understanding towards so-called friends who disappear in their hour of need.”

Blogger Kerri Morris was also abandoned by close friends. She tries her best to look on the bright side and remember the friends who stuck by her: “People have been good to me. It’s just that abandonment cuts so very deep. In the midst of our fear and suffering from cancer, rejection is devastating.”

There is no excuse for abandoning a friend, but it may help to understand the reasons why people jump ship when the water gets choppy. Below are 7 common reasons why a friend may abandon a friend during cancer treatment, and opinions on how to cope:

1. Guilt

Someone may be genuinely sad that their friend is going through cancer, but still grateful that it didn’t happen to them. It’s a natural reaction, but it can lead to a sense of shame and a type of survivor’s guilt: people feel bad for their gratefulness. These mixed feelings of shame and relief can make communication with a cancer patient too awkward or guilt-inducing for them to bear. Since they can’t can’t handle these feelings, they may choose to avoid their friend completely.

2. Fear

Cancer is scary. The patient can’t get away from it, but a friend can run away. Kerri Morris shares, “I believe that some people are afraid and can’t confront their fears. Some need you to be strong and simply can’t tolerate seeing you weak.” Perhaps you’ve always been the one to offer strength and support, and your friend can’t handle it when the tables are turned. This may be especially true when a parent or older sibling has cancer.

Writer PJ Hamel shares that a best friend stopped talking to her after her breast cancer diagnosis. Only years later was PJ able to reconnect with her friend and ask why she was ignored in her time of need. Her friend’s response is heartbreaking, but the sentiment is not uncommon: “I was scared. Scared of cancer. Scared you’d die. And I wasn’t strong enough to face down those fears. So I walked away.”

3. Helplessness

Some folks cannot stand to feel helpless, and it’s hard to avoid that feeling when a friend has cancer. They may feel like they can’t make any difference or that they have nothing to offer. Some people aren’t content if they can’t try to “fix” a situation. But there’s no quick fix for cancer, and someone may not be able handle offering only a listening ear. Since they can’t offer solutions, they simply check out.

4. Denial

Friends may see in you what might someday happen to them: tragedy. This is especially true for people with whom you share similar life circumstances: friends the same age, siblings, people in your neighborhood. If cancer can happen to you, then it might also happen to them. Ignoring you may be a way to ignore the fact that bad things happen, and no one’s health is guaranteed.

Writer Harriet Brown shares about how people with children the same age as her daughter withdrew from them when her daughter was going through anorexia treatment. “It’s magical thinking in the service of denial: If bad things are happening to you and I stay away from you, then I’ll be safe,” she writes.

“NEXT” for more reasons 5, 6, and 7 and coping strategies

Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
Proper greatergood_ctg_belowcontent
Ora Player