Cancer patients are not strangers to loneliness. Even with attentive caregivers, supportive friends and devoted family members, the cancer journey can be a lonely one. You may find that friends treat you differently, even stop calling or visiting. Or maybe you feel cut off because you’re not well enough to take part in the activities you’ve always enjoyed. And even if you’re surrounded by people who love you, you may feel isolated because they can’t really understand what you’re going through. Loneliness can be particularly acute if you’re single or widowed. In fact, dealing with cancer when you live alone can seem so overwhelming, it sometimes interferes with getting proper treatment.
No matter how isolated you might feel, don’t cut yourself off. Even at your lowest point, you’re never without resources for help, guidance, support and love. Please know that you are not alone. There are so many people who can help — you just need to take the first step.
If you’re feeling lonely or isolated:
Ask for Practical Help
If you don’t have access to the help you need while undergoing treatment— transportation to and from therapy, financial support, child care— it’s important to tell your care team. They’ll know where you can find support. Take advantage of programs your medical center has in place to support patients who are struggling. If there are social workers available where you are getting treatment, stay in close contact with them so they can make sure you have access to all the important services you require.
Reach Out to Friends and Loved Ones
While friends and family may not be able to visit you in person, call them. Skype with them. Text, email, video chat — use technology to stay connected. When you do talk to your family and friends, you don’t have to put on a false front for them. It’s OK to be honest about your feelings, but stay interested in their lives too, and in the things you’ve always enjoyed talking about. When they want to help, let them know what you need, but be understanding of their own schedules and limitations.
Find a Support Group
No matter how caring your friends and family are, if they haven’t been through what you have, they may not fully understand what fighting cancer is like. But a support group will. Comment in our discussion threads
or take part in an online support group and share your experiences. Learn from others who have been there too, and find access to resources you might not otherwise have known about.
Talk to a Therapist
One of the best ways to break through your sense of isolation is to open up about your feelings in a safe space with a professional who specializes in the emotional effects of cancer. Talk to your care team to find out if your medical center has telehealth options with mental health professionals like psychologists and social workers who can talk to you via phone or video chat. There are also apps and websites, like BetterHelp
, where you can connect with a therapist virtually.
Join a Religious or Spiritual Group
Seeking religious or spiritual guidance can provide you with a sense of life’s deeper meaning, and this higher perspective can go a long way toward relieving the loneliness of your cancer journey. Religious groups are also one of the best antidotes to isolation, offering a welcoming community that can be far more accepting than other types of social groups. Now, many churches, temples, mosques and other spiritual centers are providing programs and services online
Find Activities You Can Enjoy
Yes, there are streaming services to watch movies and TV or listen to music, but if you’re looking for something more, this is the perfect time to try an online class in something you’ve always wanted to learn. Here are several websites offering free courses on a variety of topics ranging from computer programming to quilting:
Journaling is an activity that can be both creative and therapeutic. If you need help getting started, try using these prompts
to get you writing.
Or just pick up a good book. As William Styron said, reading is “the best state yet to keep absolute loneliness at bay.”