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Loneliness and Isolation: We Are Not Alone

by Stephanie DetwilerSurvivor, Triple Negative Breast CancerAugust 28, 2023View more posts from Stephanie Detwiler

In 2021 life was good. My kids were in school full-time and I was offered a job at the gym that I loved so dearly. I was already spending an hour a day every day there anyway so it was awesome when they made me an offer. That was November. Little did I know that within two months my life would be suddenly and drastically put on hold. In January 2022 I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. The cancer diagnosis was enough to stop anyone in their tracks. You would think that having a cancer diagnosis with an aggressive form like triple negative would be someone’s only concern and it was, for a while.

For 10 months, my life revolved around doctors appointments, chemo treatments, and eventually surgery and recovery. It wasn’t until all of my medical treatment slowed down that I realized how much I had compartmentalized my life. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much I had missed out on during the year. It wasn’t until then that I realized that I had been left behind by so many friends. During 2022 as I went to weekly chemo treatments, my friends were starting new businesses, going on girls weekend trips, out to dinner, and building new relationships that I wasn’t a part of.

I don’t think at the time I really understood the impact that this would have later.

The support at the beginning of my diagnosis was overwhelming. Lots of visits and calls and cards constantly. But as treatment continued, and the year got longer, all of those well wishes and support systems began to dwindle. Eventually, I felt very isolated and alone as I finished up my surgery and recovery. At one point I felt as though the novelty of my condition had worn off for those around me. Or perhaps it just became more of a strain or more of an uncomfortable situation and friends were unable to deal. Either way, no matter the reason, all of these relationships that I had at the beginning were suddenly either changed or completely absent. It’s inevitable that if you go a year without nurturing a friendship or a relationship, it will likely die. And that’s exactly what happened. The only difference is that as a cancer patient, I had no choice. I had no choice but to focus on myself as I tried to stay alive and get healthy.

Making cancer jokes and trying to maintain a positive attitude was the only way I could make it. I’m not saying that I didn’t stop to feel the lows or even to wallow in them from time to time. I just didn’t stay there. I let myself have the pouty moments or even a couple days, but then I would push on, looking for the silver lining no matter how thin. While that was seemingly easier during treatment, it is a much more daunting task now. However, I’ve recently decided that I need to allow myself to mourn all of the things I’ve lost during this cancer journey. My feelings are mine and are valid. But just to the opposite, I need to dig deep and celebrate all of the new relationships and developed relationships that I have been gifted.

No one truly knows the journey of a person with Cancer except a person that has traveled the same path. Support groups, therapy, or a friend that’s “been through it” are our best allies. Although the loneliness sometimes seems suffocating, we are not alone.

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