The Loneliness that Cancer Brings

Two young children and a husband with cancer. It was impossible not to worry. She tried to be positive and supportive, but the fears were inescapable. What if the cancer spread? How many years did they have left? If her worst fears materialized, how would she make it?

Her husband either did not share or fears or did a much better job of suppressing them. Like so many cancer patients I have seen he decided that talking and worrying didn’t change anything, so he focused on getting back to work and a sense of normalcy. He kept the details of his Illness a secret to his friends and his extended family, preferring to avoid the questions and the scrutiny.

While this modified form of denial seemed to work well for him it was difficult for her. Unable to share the secret she often felt alone in her grief and worry. She longed to be able to tell others, shed tears, and receive hugs and prayers.

Theirs is not an uncommon tale. A cancer diagnosis is typically more difficult for family members than it is for the patient. The patient focuses on treatments and recovery, the family just worries.

The stress of family members illustrates another common aspect of our society, isolation and lack of community. Deep friendships and meaningful relationships are increasingly rare. People focus on work and family with little time for anything else. Acquaintances are made with other parents through youth sports and activities but there is little opportunity for serious conversations at soccer games and pizza parties. When difficult times come people often have no where to turn.

Years ago I heard a pastor bring this point home by asking the question, “If your husband or wife was in the ICU facing death, who would you want sitting by your side?” Most people struggled to come up with more than a handful of names.

The pastor’s question and the young mother’s struggles serve as a powerful reminder of how important it is to develop friendships and invest in the lives of others. We never know when we may need encouragement and support or when others may need us.

- Bart

Comments and questions are welcomed. You can subscribe to the blog by clicking the button on the page, or you can be notified of posts via twitter @bartbarrettmd. You can share posts with others by clicking one of the share icons that follow the post, it is the only way others learn of the blog