Relationships and support from others can be helpful to your recovery process, but the wrong connections with us can be toxic and will harm your recovery. While this may seem like a benign practice, it has some surprising health implications.

Loving relationships with friends, relatives, lovers, spouses, children, co-workers or employees – or the lack of those relationships – can build us up for success or bring us down. The survivors we interviewed explained that for many of them it was the first time in their lives they analysed how well they really got on with the other people in their lives.

Many of the survivors described how they put difficult relationships “on hold” especially during debilitating stages of treatment, to focus on themselves and those in their life who would support them. This does not mean you have to exile the other people from your life for good, simply that you are investing less in relationships that are not contributing to your life in a positive way that is good for you.

Being around a couple of people who make you feel good and help you enjoy life is more beneficial to your recovery than a large group of supporters and friends who you don’t really connect with and can’t openly talk too about how you feel, your treatment and your decisions. Many survivors spoke of learning who their friends really were as some old friends backed away , whilst also growing closer to people they hadn’t considered such as work colleagues who check in on them regularly and neighbours who would offer to cook, help them garden, collect their post and move the bins for them.

Our experience is that cancer tends to give patients the permission to examine a wide variety of life choices, especially within their network of social support. The last thing patients need is people they turn to for support critically questioning their choices and treatment decisions, once it has already been determined and the patient is happy.

New research continues to demonstrate the health benefits of supportive relationships. We suggest that if you are going through cancer and are currently alone, you look for local support groups, your doctors may be able to suggest one. If not the online community run by Macmillan Cancer Support is full of cancer patients and survivors sharing there stories through a secure intranet. You may find someone in a similar position to yourself and make a new friend.

Having someone to share everything with without fear or judgement can be a powerful healing tool. 

Relationship Guidelines:

  • Learn healthy ways to relate to yourself and  others.
  • Seek help if someone is hurting you. Remember abuse can be emotional or physical.
  • Consider counselling if you need help with unresolved issues and feelings that are causing you long term unrest and distress.
  • Have family members and friends you feel you can talk with or be comforted by.
  • Be a friend to others.
  • Remember to take time to enjoy your family, friends and pets.
  • Be grateful for what you have and try not to worry about the future, its not here yet!
  • Consider attending a support group, it could enhance your life in unknown ways and inspire you. It is also a great opportunity to make new friends who will understand how you feel.

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