“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I began to lose friends.”

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Since going through my second cancer diagnosis, I seem to have perfected the art of losing friendships. I could now count on one hand the number of close friends that I have left.

Whilst I am fully aware that friendship is all about quality, not quantity, I just wanted to share a couple of my own experiences as I think it’s important for people to realise that just because I (or anyone else for that matter) have cancer, it doesn’t mean I cannot still be your friend. The things you loved about me pre-cancer, are still there.

Sure, I will admit that there are many times I have had to cancel or reschedule plans, or I am going through long periods of recovery time and can’t see you at all. But it’s not due to me being lazy or being a shit friend, it’s because I’m fighting to stay alive.

I am very open and honest about my situation to those closest to me, so if you want or need to know something, I always tell you how it is.

With the vast array of communication tools these days, it’s usually by choice that someone has dropped off the radar. I make a conscious effort to stay in touch on a regular basis with the ones that I love, but friendship is a two-way street, if I’m not getting much from you then you’re not going to get much back from me.

Cancer and friendship
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I don’t consider myself to be a high maintenance “sick friend”. I don’t ask anything of anyone – I even struggle to ask my parents for help! I don’t believe that I am “draining” to be around or to talk to, I am still that same person that brought us together as friends in the first place. I am still me, I just have some extra priorities lumped on me right now.

After my first diagnosis, people slowly started to drop off because I could no longer go out with them. My days of partying and drinking every weekend were over, so I guess that helped separate the friendships based purely on partying from the friendships based on genuine love.

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When I started to recover from my first diagnosis, I actually had to ask to be invited to things again… several times. I would openly put it out there, that I wanted to be invited to catch-ups again, but somehow my message never really got through, and I continued to be left out.

I also had a weird situation when a person I went to high school with over ten years ago came out of the woodworks and wanted to be there for me. I thought it was strange at first, as we were never friends in school and hadn’t seen one another since we graduated, but she was persistent and desperately wanted to do nice things for me and I thought OK, I am losing friends to cancer so maybe I should allow myself to gain friends due to cancer.

This new friend of mine was absolutely fantastic during the first 18-months fighting my first diagnosis and we soon became very close friends. Shortly after I returned to work part-time and I was improving each day, she dropped off the face of the earth and stopped replying to my messages. I still to this day have no idea what happened.

Friendship and cancer
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Similar situation with another high school friend who I had met in year 8. We had been such close friends all throughout high school and in our 20’s. We basically grew up together and then one day he just stopped replying to me, ignored my calls and then blocked me on all forms of social media. Again, to this day, I still have no idea why.

Most recently, whilst trying to enjoy my family holiday in Noosa, a holiday I wasn’t sure I’d even make, I was again blocked, deleted and ignored by someone who I considered to be one of my best friends. A friend who I spoke so highly of, a friend who I spoke to and laughed with daily. It was the sort of friendship where we both shared our deepest and darkest stories and secrets. Friendships like that don’t come around very often so I truly cherished that one, but I somehow lost it… and again, I don’t know why.

I, of course, understand that life gets busy, and I never expect much of anyone, but I will never understand why someone will let a cancer diagnosis tarnish a wonderful friendship. This is a time when cancer patients need their friends the most, and it’s something that you can’t really come back from. How does that age-old saying go? If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you don’t get me at my best? It rings so true! You can’t drop off the radar when the going gets tough, then reappear when things are improving, it just doesn’t work like that.

But this is not a “woe is me” post, it’s more so another awareness post: true friends don’t let friends fight cancer alone.

Listen: Samuel Johnson spends his time being there for others dealing with cancer. Post continues after audio...

And true friends I do have. I have many stories that I won’t even be able to scratch the surface, but I do like to try and remember the positives more than the negatives.

My friend who went and had her first tattoo… a “hope” tattoo to match the one that I got two years ago. We are HOPE sisters for life! She also surprised me with a newly decorated living room that she sneakily arranged whilst I was in Noosa! During my first diagnosis, she organised an amazing gift which included a Flight Centre voucher because she knew how much I wanted to go to Fiji to relax and unwind.

She has sent me heartwarming videos and gorgeous paintings from her beautiful children when she knows I am having a rough time. I will never forget being in the hospital with sepsis and waiting and wanting to die when I received a video message from her daughter telling me she loved me and it still to this day brings a tear to my eye. Also, simple things like passing on her magazines and tagging me in things online that she knows will make me laugh.

Cancer and losing friends
Image: Supplied.

Friends who have baked me delicious sweet treats and scooped me up for the best beach picnics ever!

Friends who at the drop of a hat, will rearrange their day so that they can see me because I have woken up one day having a rare “good day” and want to get out of the house for a few hours.

Friends who have taken me out for my favourite sweet treats when I’ve actually had an appetite.

Friends who are interstate and have always welcomed me with open arms if I’ve ever needed a quick getaway.

And friends who have been consistent and stayed in touch. It doesn’t have to be daily or even weekly, but the consistent contact doesn’t go unnoticed. I find happiness and appreciation in the smallest things.

We all know and understand that life gets busy, but don’t forget why you were drawn to our friendship, to begin with. Of all things, don’t let something like cancer have even more power and break something that was once so wonderful. Cancer has done enough damage, don’t give it any more power. #fuckcancer

Sherie Hagger is a 35-year-old from Adelaide. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Bowel Cancer at just 31-years-old. Almost two-and-a-half years after her initial diagnosis, multiple surgeries, intensive radiotherapy, and chemotherapy - Sherie's cancer returned. In November 2016, Sherie endured an eight-hour operation to remove the new cancer mass. She has been plagued with complications ever since.
Sherie is very passionate about helping cancer sufferers feel less alone by sharing her story. You can read more from Sherie on her blog and her Facebook page.

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