Helping family and friends feel at ease can be difficult. At a time when the focus should be on you, you may resent having to do some groundwork to get the support you need.

Often, family and friends need direction on how to behave with you. They might not be sure that you want company. They might call to ‘see how things are going’, then add as they hang up the phone, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help’. Take the opportunity to let them know how they can help. Tell them exactly what you need from them — be specific. If you can think of something they can do, you’ll be doing both of you a favour.

Cancer can change relationships. Some family and friends handle it well; others cut off all contact. Some people stay away for different reasons. They may not be able to cope with their feelings or know how to respond to a change in your appearance. Your family and friends may still care for you, even if they stay away.

If you think that uneasiness rather than fear is keeping a family member or friend from visiting, call them to help ease the way. Remember that you can’t always deal with all the reasons why people avoid you; some still believe that cancer is contagious.

Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself — are family or friends staying away or have you withdrawn from them to avoid talking about your fears and anxieties? You may find that talking about your illness helps you cope with it better.