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It is important for parents to maintain their adult friendships when their child is fighting cancer. Staying close to friends is important for many reasons. Friends can be a source of help, emotional support, or distraction to relieve stress.
During serious illness, all relationships undergo changes and challenges. Friendships are no exception. Distance, lack of time, and feeling like friends don’t understand can make it hard for parents to stay connected with friends. But, when children are fighting cancer, parents need adult friendships.
Friends may assume the last thing parents with a sick child want are visitors and phone calls. But that may be exactly what parents need. Childhood cancer is overwhelming, and friends may not know what to say or do. Even close friends may pull away. Letting friends know that they are important doesn’t have to take much time or effort. It may seem simple, but proactively telling friends that they are valued can open communication.
Most parents feel like they don’t have enough time for friends even before their child is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer presents even more time demands: appointments, medical care, home and work responsibilities, keeping track of information, and making time for family. Stress and worry can also make it hard to have the energy to reach out.
But most parents say that friendships play an important role in making it through the pediatric cancer journey. Each person connects with friends in different ways, but here are some things parents have found helpful.
“It’s sometimes hard for me to know what to say to people. I’m sure it can be hard for my friends to talk to me too.”
“Hey, I wanted to give you a ring – it’s good to hear your voice.”
Ask for specific help.
“This is a hard time for my family. If you could help with picking the kids up from school a few times a week, it would mean a lot.”
“I know I haven’t been around as much, but just know that your friendship means the world to me.”
“Thank you for dropping off dinner last night. That was a big help to our family.”
Most people have no idea what it’s like to have a child with cancer. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, every friend reacts differently. Some friends go above and beyond with their support. Others pull back. Some friends may try to act like nothing has changed. Others may promise a lot of help but don’t come through. Parents can be disappointed when friends don’t offer the help and support expected.
Common reasons why friends may not meet parents’ expectations include:
It is natural for parents to feel let down, especially if a close friend does not give the support needed. Disappointment can often lead to anger and resentment, especially when parents are already feeling vulnerable. But, there are some ways that parents can cope in a more positive way.
Despite wanting to help, friends are often unsure of what to say or do. Sometimes, friends may even avoid interactions because cancer makes them uncomfortable. Other times, friends make comments that parents find hurtful or inconsiderate.
Open, honest communication is important for all relationships. Friendships are no exception. There are some ways that parents can cope when friends say something hurtful:
Even small disappointments can hurt a lot when parents are caring for a sick child. Accepting that different friendships play different roles can help prevent unrealistic expectations. Past friendships often provide comfort, familiarity, and connection to life outside of cancer. But new friendships that develop during the cancer journey are also important to provide support that only comes from personal experience. Focus on the friendships and relationships that matter most, including friends and family members. Although some friendships may not be what they were, parents can also look forward to new friends during the pediatric cancer journey – during treatment, in support groups, and completely unexpected places.
Reviewed: June 2018