Ask Dr. Ryan: Manage Changing Relationships
Michael Ryan, Psy.D., is the clinical director of supportive oncology at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute.
It’s normal for relationships to change after a cancer diagnosis. You, your family and friends will be dealing with strong emotions, and communicating effectively may take some time. Flexibility and forgiveness will be helpful. Here are tips for coping or letting go.
Sadness and tears
If someone’s heartache upsets you, consider saying: “Would you please give me a gift? I need your support. Please gather your strength and resilience to help me. Please talk with someone else about your sad feelings.”
Community resources are available through Imerman Angels, Gilda’s Club and other organizations.
Minimize or encourage?
A friend says: “I know someone who had your type of cancer. They’re fine now, so don’t worry.”
Was it minimizing or encouraging? Be kind and direct. “I appreciate your trying to help. But I’m working through my own ways of dealing with this disease.”
Avoid and disengage
People may feel helpless or have limited experience with a serious illness. Some survivors may not want to hear about cancer and re-experience their pain. If your attempts to connect have failed, find other supporters.
Judgement and blame
Beliefs about treatment may trigger judgmental speech. Let people know you’ve heard their viewpoint; you’ve studied your options and made your decision. Ask them to still support you.
If addictions or lifestyle issues spark blame for cancer, remember self-compassion is important for recovery. Make and keep boundaries in conversations.
Anxious or overbearing
Fear produces a physical reaction – fight, flight or freeze. Directing that energy can be helpful. Tell people your specific needs – cleaning, cooking, running errands or resting alone. They may respond quickly and support you.
During treatment, personality problems may be glaring. Choose your challenges and save your strength. Accept differences but look for compromises.
After treatment, previous friends may re-emerge. Now what? Be bitter or be better? Forgiveness might make you stronger.