Cancer and Friendships

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2019

Cancer can change many things in your life, including your friendships. You will probably notice that some friends stop spending as much time with you. Others might become even closer. You might also make new friends during your cancer treatment. Below are some ways to maintain friendships, find support, and understand why some friends might seem to slip away.

What are your friends thinking?

Many teens and young adults have never known someone with cancer. Or they might think of cancer as a disease that only older people have. So, they might not know how to react to your illness. Here are some ways that friends might respond, and possible reasons why.

  • If friends avoid you, do not mention your cancer when you talk, or do not call you, they might:

    • Not know what to say

    • Be afraid of saying something wrong

    • Worry about upsetting you

    • Think you do not feel like talking, or are too sick to talk

  • If friends are not visiting you or inviting you to do things, they might:

    • Think you do not want visitors

    • Be afraid to see you looking different or sick

    • Think you are too sick to join in activities

    • Feel guilty about having fun when you have cancer

During intensive treatment, you might see some friends but not others. It depends on how close you are, how much they can handle, and other factors. It does not mean your friendships with other people are over, just that those friendships are different.

What to say to your friends

You can start by explaining your cancer and treatment. First, decide what you want different people to know. For example, you might tell your partner or best friends every detail. But casual friends at school or work might hear, “I have cancer, but I’m getting treatment.” They might want to know what type of cancer, and you can decide how much to say.

If you are nervous, you can decide what to say ahead of time. Also, remember that you are in charge of the information about your health. You do not need to tell anyone until you are ready, and there is no need to say more than you want to. You should also be mindful of how much information you share on social media about your cancer. It is easy to forget that what you post on social media is very public and shareable, which can make it hard to control who sees it.

On the other hand, you might want support from your close friends. You might need to take the first step if they are not talking about your cancer. Tell them how you feel and how much you can do or share. Invite them over, just to relax and chat, and do activities you have the energy to do. Being open with friends gives them the chance to support you.

How friends can help

Be honest about what you need and how your friends can help. For example:

  • Ask them to keep calling you, even if you do not always feel like talking.

  • Ask them to keep inviting you to things, even if you cannot always go. You will go when you can.

  • Ask them to come over if you cannot go out.

  • Ask friends to visit you in the hospital. Tell them what to expect, especially if you look different. You can remind them that you are the same person on the inside.

  • Stay in touch by texting, messaging, phone, or email.

  • Ask your friends to just listen sometimes.

Accepting the changes

Having cancer will probably change your friendships. But many of the changes will be positive. You might become closer to some friends and find it easier to talk about important things. You might make new friends, including people with cancer who can understand your experience. And some friendships might fade no matter what you do.

It is important to understand that cancer will change you, too. You might discover a new purpose, find a desire to help others, or become more serious about school or a hobby. All of these things are a normal part of life, whether you have cancer or not.

Related Resources

Supporting a Friend Who Has Cancer

Managing School During and After Cancer Treatment

Working During and After Cancer Treatment

Cancer and Intimate Relationships

More Information

13thirty: Dealing with Others

Teens Health: My Friend Has Cancer. How Can I Help?