Thursday, July 29, 2010

Medical conditions are isolating

I have found that all medical issues can be isolating. I was going to title this post 'Cancer is isolating' but its not just cancer, its any medical condition. We have all experienced the common cold where we decide to lie low for a day or two because we don't feel well - we don't want to spread our germs but we also don't feel like socializing and interacting with others. This is normal.

But what if someone doesn't feel well for several months - going through cancer treatment for example - where you don't want to make the effort (which appears to be huge) to pick up the phone and talk to your friends or go out and socialize because it might expend energy. Its not lying around feeling sorry for yourself, but just not feeling up to doing much. When this lasts for the six months of cancer treatment, the resulting feelings of isolation and ensuing loneliness can be very profound.

At a cancer diagnosis, the patient is stressed and trying to cope. Well meaning friends may offer to help but they are rebuffed by the stressed patient. The friends may try again and keep getting turned away as the patient is not feeling up to interacting. Talking about what their going through is admitting they are sick and their cancer is real. Good intentioned but misguided questions from friends can be painful to hear. Relationships start to fall apart. The patient isn't feeling up to interacting. The friends are feeling rejected because of the continued turn downs and call less often. And so the downward spiral goes on.

How to hang on to and mend the relationships? The friends need to realize the patient is going through a stressful life altering event. The patient needs to realize the friends really do mean well, even if they don't understand. As we grow and change through the experience the relationship may or may not withstand the pressures. And life goes on, the seasons change. People change. A nasty medical diagnosis forces unwanted change down the patient's throat.

Then I read that having a social life is as important in life as not smoking or drinking in terms of preventing health issues. This may be true but sometimes I have needed to put my social life in the backseat as I struggle with medical issues. For the past few weeks, my health has taken me on a roller coaster ride and I have been less than social. I did go out for dinner with a friend last night and it felt good. I will spend the next couple of evenings with my husband, as he is may mainstay. Even when I don't go out of the house, he is my social life, ensuring that I interact with another human being. The cat demands my attention - and food and water. I maybe living in a little cave of my medical crap but I am interacting.

Okay, I admit, I overdid things yesterday. Yes, me. I admit it. I did work from home but broke down and took a short walk - about 15 minutes because it was SO nice out. My hip felt okay while walking but when I got home, I needed to ice it. I went out to dinner with a friend and then we went shopping for a little bit. When I sat down in my car, I was in excruciating pain and I had to sit there for a few minutes before I could drive. I came home and iced my hip and took more pain pills. This means my hip has reached that bad period - where I am not in pain until after I am done what I am doing. This means I am in danger of over doing things regularly. (But I will be in denial and pretend its not happening. I will continue to take my pain meds until my hip stops hurting.)


Lauren said...

Medical conditions really are isolating. I can relate to everything you were saying. It's not that you want to be alone, but being around people is so exhausting. Sometimes its nice to not have people trying to make you feel better because lets face it, it doesn't usually help despite their kind/caring intentions.

As far as having a social life goes, about a month ago I was reading the "What I wish other people would do/say" topic on or something along the lines of that. Some of the best stories involved friends coming over and reading out loud or just physically being there. Just being there can be a wonderful blessing.

I think online support can be very helpful. It's all in your own time and with a crowd of people going through very similar experiences. Even better yet you don't need to get out of bed and look presentable, you are accepted as is.

Hope your hip feels better soon so you can go back to enjoying the nice weather!

-Lauren (

linda said...

Living alone is wonderful, but I would like to come home to a warm body, face, smile, conversation, rather than a computer screen and refrigerator. I hope you take it easy. That does sound dangerous. You never know where you are until later.

Cynthia said...

This really caught me, Caroline. You have captured the experience very well. I often turned people away - I was too tired and too vulnerable. I had had one too many experiences of people unintentionally blurting out non-survival cancer stories. The most innocuous reference to someone's mother who succumbed to cancer made me want to burst into tears. Or punch someone.

But I also had to give myself permission to allow people in. I have one dear friend who always knew when to check in with an email or a phone call. And I have told her how much I appreciated it. She helped me feel like someone going through something big rather than someone who was sick. That turned the interaction into a gift rather than something to cope with. I have other friends that practically disappeared. But I got that too. In the past, I have found it very hard to know how to reach out to someone who was sick or coping with a sick family member.

The last thing my husband and I wanted was for any of the people we love to feel guilty about how they were choosing to adapt to our new reality. And we told them that. I hope that helped them. It helped us. We could just let it go.

Now we are coming up on a year anniversary of treatment starting. And it is time to say thank you to all my great people. Until we can plan the party, I'm just planning on scheduling regular visits so I can begin the process of reconnecting, with them and with life.

Thank you for blogging. I hope you are feeling better. Enjoy your sunrises! I'll think of you next time I'm up at 5. :-)

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