Are You a Cancer Ghost?  Here's How to Prevent It.

Are You a Cancer Ghost? Here's How to Prevent It.

Meghan
Author
Meghan
Author

Meghan Konkol

1 month ago at 7:36 PM

Ever heard of cancer ghosting? It's an all too common phenomenon where friends and family members of a cancer patient don't know what to say, so they don't say anything at all. Read on for tips on how you can break this hurtful cycle.

If you have a friend going through cancer, you know that it’s a physically excruciating experience. But did you know that it can be incredibly lonely, too? Especially in the world of adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer, patients can feel extremely isolated when they are the first person in their social circle to experience serious illness.

Unfortunately, all too often, cancer patients report that certain friends have faded away since their diagnosis. In some cases, friends stop texting, extending invitations to social activities, and offering emotional support. Essentially, they disappear altogether. In the cancer world, this is what we call “cancer ghosting.”

Cancer is already a challenging experience, and being explicitly ghosted by friends can make this even worse. As the friend of someone going through cancer, it’s important that you take stock of your commitment to the relationship and identify how you can support them. There are many ways you can remain present for your friend going through cancer, no matter your hesitations or lack of experience.

First, it can be helpful to explore some introspection on your own. Reflect on your feelings about your friend’s diagnosis and identify any hindrances you may have to showing up for them. Let’s take a look at some of the hesitations you may have about your friend’s situation and how you can contribute in a meaningful way:

“I don’t know what to say. What if I say the wrong thing?”

Although cancer can certainly be life-changing, remember that they are still the same friend you know and love. Tell them how much you care about their well-being. Let them know that you don’t quite know what to say, but you’re willing to show up, listen, and learn. Admitting that you don’t know what to say is much better than saying nothing at all. It can mean a lot to your friend that you’re there to support them through this major life change.

“Cancer seems really complicated. I don’t understand much about their diagnosis or treatment.”

Your friend knows that you’re not a cancer expert, and that is perfectly OK. Chances are your friend is learning as they go, and they may find it hard to understand, too. If your friend brings up specific details about their diagnosis or treatment, you can ask questions to show that you care about them and want to understand more about what they’re going through. And remember that you aren’t expected to “fix” their situation or offer advice, unless they specifically ask. Your friend may simply need a listening ear.

“I’m uncomfortable talking about serious illness.”

It’s important to know and respect your own boundaries. If you’re not in a place to talk about illness or treatment with your friend, you can still show up for them. You could let them know that you’re not able to offer emotional support, but you’d love to plan a fun activity or self-care routine. This could be a welcome distraction from their medical appointments and procedures. And if your friend is seeking an outlet to talk about cancer specifically, you could help them find a support group or therapist for this kind of conversation.

“It’s been a while since they shared their diagnosis with me, and I feel bad for not doing anything right away.”

Support doesn’t have a deadline. In fact, support and messages tend to drop off as time goes on, and cancer patients can feel lonelier as they continue to drudge through treatment. It’s never too late to check in with your friend and offer a hand with chores, transportation to treatment, a meal together, or a phone call.

Even if they’ve completed cancer treatment, it’s important to still check in with your friend. After treatment, many people may assume that “cancer is over” and that your friend can “go back to normal,” when in reality they will experience a new wave of challenges navigating life as a cancer survivor. Even if you weren’t there at the beginning, you can still show up in a really meaningful way at any time.

Ultimately, every cancer experience is different, just like every relationship is different. Cancer will cause some major changes in your friend’s life, so remaining present for them is really important. Don’t ghost them when they need you most!

By examining your own hesitations or questions about helping your friend with cancer, you will hopefully be able to identify a meaningful way to stay involved and supportive during this time. The details of how and when you help them are up to you, but simply showing up is the most important part.

5 comments

Last activity by Anne Young

Johna
Johna Fitz

Thank you for posting this. I have had the hardest time trying to get my friends and family to realize how what they are doing to me is really hurtful.

K
Kristi Jones

I wish I had the guts to send this to my sister who has barely called since my diagnosis.

Luke
Luke Smith

This is spot on. What I loved about it the most is that it is written from the perspective of a cancer patient, someone who has gone through this herself. And it was the first thing that has made me start to realize that the fact that we've had a bunch of friends and family members just stop calling isn't our fault.

Sid
Sid Mahoun

Spot on.

Anne
Anne Young

YES! I could not agree with this more.

Anonymous

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