Cancer

Impact on friends

Most of the young people we interviewed were wary of the reactions of friends and peers following cancer treatment. Those who had missed a lot of schooling and found themselves put down a year felt lonely because of having to establish themselves in a new group that had already formed their own relationships (Interview 01). It was also of great concerned ’not to be treated differently’. Perhaps because of this few decided to continue their studies at college rather than going back to their original school (Interview 27). Many also found that their peers were at first afraid to ask questions about the cancer or say anything in front of them in case they said the wrong thing. Maybe this was because their friends didn’t know how to behave themselves or how those that had had treatment, would react. On the whole friends became more relaxed about it all after they had talked about their experiences of cancer and treatment as in general most young people don’t know very much about cancer and feel awkward and embarrassed about how to respond.

Most young people found their friends to be very supportive and even protective - if needed- at lunch and during break at school. Friends would visit regularly and show respect for what they had gone through. But sadly, in a few cases, some young people had lost contact with their friends when they'd been in hospital for long periods of time. Those having long-term treatments who were unable to attend school regularly found that it was difficult to get on with new peers and to make new friends.

The impact their illness had on friends and acquaintances was different for the older people we interviewed. They said that friends from university had either been very supportive or had been totally unable to cope with their illness.

Having a friend who had also had cancer was very important for some young people because it provided much valued emotional support and understanding. Both young people who had been recently diagnosed and treated, and those who had been in remission for some years felt these friendships were an important source of support and communication. For instance a young man who was affected by cancer in his early teens never had a chance to talk to others with a similar experience of his own age and, looking back, thought that he had missed out on something important. Some young people who had experienced cancer commented that, compared with their peers, they felt more mature and less inclined to argue about what they considered 'insignificant stuff’. One young man said, 'My friends say that I’m a forty-year-old man in the body of a nineteen year old boy’ (Interview 10).

Relationships both during and after their cancer treatment were an important issue. Some felt unattractive and couldn’t imagine anyone wanting a relationship with them. Others were concerned that they’d missed out because their friends were all into having serious relationships. Even those who were too young to have had a girlfriend or boyfriend before their illness were concerned about how people would react to them when they found out that they'd had cancer. They were concerned about when to tell their new partner about their illness or the fact that they might not be able to have children. Those few in long-term committed relationships, said the key had been finding the right partner for them and discussing these issues early on. 

Last reviewed November 2014.

Last updated November 2014.

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