Remember your first glance in the mirror after you were told you had cancer or after you started chemo? You held your breath, your heart was racing and your stomach was in knots, and when you finally opened your eyes, you saw the person staring back at you is different. Your hair might be thin, if there is any at all, your skin pale and your eyes wide. This version of you is the one fighting cancer. Meet the “temporary you.”
But who is the “temporary you?” More importantly, how do you introduce the “temporary you” to your significant other, your family, friends, or co-workers? How will they accept this “temporary you?” So many questions flood your mind when going through cancer. One is “Is this going to change how people feel about me? How is this going to change my relationships?” With all the research and science dedicated to the fight against cancer, this question is still a top one in a psychological battle against a disease that not only affects you, but everyone around you.
To start, do a “relationship inventory” to help prioritize and manage expectations of the people in your life. Look at the relationships rooted in unconditional love, relationships based on longevity and even those based on default (i.e. the family members you can only tolerate during holidays.) Then look at how much energy it will take to maintain the relationship and what you need or want out of it. If it will take too much energy, time or effort to maintain the relationship, than give yourself permission to let it go – or at least tell that person that you might not be able to be there for him or her in the way you used to be. Maintaining those harder relationships might have been doable in the past, but “temporary you” needs to focus on you and the people in your life who matter most to you, and to whom your needs will come first during this difficult time.
Remember too that relationships can change with the tide, depending on your developmental stage, like high school friends, in-laws, co-workers, fellow church members or other parents. They also can change when an adversity strikes. Cancer comes out of left field, and its ripples can be felt across the board. Reactions to your diagnosis may fluctuate between the “cheerleaders” and the ones who distance themselves as far as possible. Even people you thought would always be there for you may vanish, while others may surprise you with how helpful and understanding they can be. Emotions wrapped up in these changes are a mixed bag. You may become angry, upset, relieved, and even honored by those who have entered into our life, or emotionally shattered by those who have taken a leave of absence.
For a unique perspective, compare your life to a play. People are like actors - some are only in our play for one scene or act, some for the entire play - yet all are vital to our plot. We must learn to communicate with the ones who are there to listen, and find peace with those who aren’t. “Temporary you” will find their way back to the “normal you,” but an interesting thing may happen along the way. You may come to find that the new skin you are in has made a larger impact and is more powerful than you ever could have imagined, and that accepting new relationships into your life may help sustain this new resilience and strength. Ultimately, the relationships forged or forgotten during this part of your life’s journey are all part of the process, so know that those who enter or exit all served a purpose, if only temporary.