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Teenagers With Cancer Feel Abandonerd By Friends

August 9, 2021

“I was so upset when it took a long time for one of my good friends to visit me in hospital,” Hiral Deugi tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

She’s 24 now and was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia at 21.

“As soon as you’re ill people tread on egg shells and worry about saying they are having fun, but you still want to hear about the good times and the nights out.

“I could see my friend on social media going out and partying – which is totally fine – but I thought ‘why isn’t she visiting me?’ It was the worst time of my life and I really needed her.”

Eventually Hiral’s friend did visit her in hospital and said she hadn’t done sooner because she didn’t know what to say.

“When she told me that, I was so angry, but thinking about it now I can see that she probably just couldn’t deal with it.”

‘Cancer can change friendships’

Hiral’s experience is not unusual.

New research from the charity Teenage Cancer Trust has found that 40% of 121 young cancer sufferers surveyed said some of their friends stopped contacting them completely after diagnosis, and three quarters said that their friendships had changed.

Kathryn Rodwell, 23 and from North Wales, found out she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma during her second year at university. She’s still receiving treatment and is waiting for a stem cell transplant.

Kathryn had a group of three close friends at uni, but says that all changed when she was diagnosed.

“I tried to keep in contact with them all, but only one made the effort. Eventually I gave up trying with two of them and don’t speak to either of them now.”

She says the other friend has been brilliant at cheering her up, though, and not treating her any differently.

“When you’ve got cancer it feels like that’s all you have to talk about so it’s so nice when friends do reach out and just talk about normal things.”

Feeling ‘awkward’

Around half of the 121 young people with cancer surveyed say awkwardness about what to say or do is the reason friends fall out of touch.

That’s exactly what Rian Harvey found when he was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 14.

“I had a few friends that distanced themselves, and stopped contacting me.

“At the time it really hurt, but now I kind of understand why they did it,” he says.

“Cancer carries a massive stigma, and I think a lot of them thought I was going to die and just didn’t know how to deal with it.”

He’s 22 now and says that over the last few years he’s realised who his true mates are, with some “sticking by” throughout his treatment.

“A few of them would message me when I was in hospital saying they were at McDonalds and asking if I wanted anything picking up before they visited… and that was great as I still felt included – plus I was really hungry during treatment!”

So what should you say to a friend who has cancer?

Helen Veitch is from the Teenage Cancer Trust, which is currently running a campaign about how best to support a friend with cancer.

“It is totally understandable to feel scared, not know what to say or do, or be afraid of saying the wrong thing,” she says.

“But your friend is already going through the worst thing possible, so anything you ask or say won’t be that bad!”

Her top tips are to keep them included, have normal conversations and to stay in touch.

“Just send that message, or make that call… the longer you leave it the harder it’ll be.

“And really the best thing you can do is just to ask how you can support them, because friendship can be a really key part of cancer recovery”.

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