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Cancer Showed Me The True Meaning Of Friendship

04/02/2017 09:45
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When I was diagnosed with cancer, one of my greatest fears was losing my friends because of it. Being at university when I was diagnosed, meant that my friends were some of the first people to know about my illness and as I was living with them, their support was essential.

This World Cancer Day, Macmillan has reported that around one in 10 people with cancer (9%) in the UK - an estimated 230,000 people - have no close friends they could talk to about their cancer. Thankfully, some of my Uni friends really came through and ended up being some of the most supportive through treatment and in the years afterwards - but I also found some friends struggled with how to react.

When I contracted an infection whilst at university in Manchester, my friends were there to drive me to hospital, staying with me until my parents could get there. I downplayed the situation at the time, but they have since said they realised how serious it was and that they just wanted to make sure I was in the best place possible.

Others really went out of their way to show me that I was still part of the group, despite my illness. Some of my closest mates took a four hour round trip from Manchester to my home in Hull, just to take me out for tea one evening. It may not seem like a massive deal to everyone, but to me it was everything.

Other friends who I had lost touch with over the years came back in to my life, and made sure that I got out of the house. They would take me to dinner or the cinema and treat me as if nothing was happening when I needed distracting; or sit and talk to me about the cancer when I needed to bend someone's ear.

But not all of my friends were so supportive, even if they may not have seen it that way at the time. After telling them about my diagnosis, a couple of friends wished me well but then I didn't hear from them again until after I was in remission. I found some people refused to acknowledge my illness and others just repeated clichés like 'be positive' or 'you're so brave'.

Some people could also be really insensitive. One friend complained about having had 'the worst year ever' while I was still in the middle of my treatment, while others would laugh at me for how early I went to bed or for spending all day watching TV, rather than going on a night out.

Despite all of this, I do think it's easy to dismiss friends as unsupportive in this sort of situation, especially when you might be feeling depressed and emotional about the diagnosis and the process of treatment that you're going through. I had to keep reminding myself that it's hard for my friends as well, at 19 they had probably never experienced a close friend their own age having cancer.

This also rings true in Macmillan's research, which revealed that almost half of Brits who have had a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer (47%), find it difficult to support them and 61% of those surveyed said this is because they don't know what to say.

One piece of advice that I will always stand by is that the best thing you can do for a friend with cancer is listen to them - and understand that sometimes, even they may not know what they want; be it talking about their illness or not talking about it at all. The support my friends gave me is something that I won't be able to repay, and as cheesy as it sounds, they'll never know how much it meant and still means to me.

Through services like Macmillan's Online Community website, Macmillan Cancer Support is here on World Cancer Day (Saturday 4th February) and all year round to support people living with cancer and their loved ones. On our Online Community, you'll find people who know how you feel, because they're facing cancer too. The Online Community can be found at community.macmillan.org.uk. If you just need someone to talk to, the team on our Support Line are here to listen. The Support Line is open Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm.

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