Restore Emotional Well-Being Maintaining Healthy Relationships
M.S., Mental Health Counseling
When you were given the unfortunate diagnosis of cancer, it probably seemed like the sympathy and support that your family, friends and loved ones offered were reasonable responses. They may have tried to help when you were weak from treatment by bringing you food or providing physical comfort by offering a shoulder to cry on. They may have given you kind words and a loving touch.
Sometimes their actions toward you might have seemed more straightforward when you had breast cancer than when you are in remission.
Do you now all pretend like your breast cancer did not happen? Do you talk about it? Do you need to be careful around them? What if they do not want to talk about it?
Every woman has different needs for support from others during each stage of the breast cancer process, including the remission stage. First of all, tell them! Take the emotional risk and tell your friends, family members or even co-workers how they can best support you.
They may be afraid to ask you an honest question or assume that they should know how to support you, since they are our loved ones. Telling them how you feel helps them feel less awkward, and it also empowers you to express your needs. It opens the conversation and helps to remove the stigma of breast cancer by talking it. After you tell them, ask them to honor your wishes as best they can.
You have been through one of the most intense experiences of your life mentally, emotionally and physically. Your breast cancer is part of your life -- and now their lives as well. It has affected you on a number of levels and left you changed in ways both good and bad. You might be struggling with the emotional effects of having gone through such a difficult experience and learning slowly how to pick up the pieces of your life and put them back together. You might also still be experiencing some residual physical side effects.
Ignoring or not talking about the fact that you fought and beat cancer invalidates the magnitude of your experience and your victory. Ask friends and family to be there for you in the way that you want and need them to be, while still honoring yourself. Allow this level of honesty and openness to bring you closer in your connection to one another. Going through breast cancer leads to new levels of mental and emotional growth, whether your loved ones have acknowledged this or not.
Embrace your strength and discover what you can teach them from what you have learned from your experience. At the same time, validate their strength, and see what you can learn from them. This not only can enrich you, but also strengthen your relationship with them and help them, and you, find more meaning behind your breast cancer experience. All of this aids your and your loved ones’ emotional healing process as well.
When you are with a loved one, cherish the genuine connection between the two of you. Whether you share a laugh, a hug, a kind word, a meal or a wonderful distraction, allow yourself to be in the moment with this person. Live life alongside your loved one and welcome the support that’s given.
At the same time, make sure that you are still honoring and taking care of yourself in the process. As typical with most women, you can easily give so much of yourself to others that you have nothing left for yourself. This is does not help you or anyone else, especially during the breast cancer recovery process.
Being in remission from breast cancer is not something that needs be swept under the rug like a dark secret. It is important to honor and validate your experience and who you are. In turn, you will honor and validate the people who support you. Your honesty and compassion, taking your breast cancer journey alongside of your friends and family, can create the best support possible.
Good luck and enjoy the journey.
Here are some resources that might help you better understand how to maintain your relationships in your recovery from breast cancer:
Maintaining a Healthy Relationship after Breast Cancer
The Effects of Poor Relationships on Cancer
Breast Cancer: When the Woman You Love Has Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer's Relationship Toll
Susan G. Komen Co-Survivor Network
Talking with Your Partner
Talking with your Children
For more information on maintaining healthy relationships, go to Breast Cancer Partner’s Resources. You can also share your knowledge and success with other survivors in our Partner Forum or at Survivor Tips.