Support Fatigue and Managing Expectations
As I was in the hospital recovering from my radical cystectomy, the flowers and cards from family, friends, and supporters covered every inch of my room. My phone was constantly buzzing with calls and texts. “You got this girl!” “You are a fighter!” “Beat cancer!” “I’m praying for you!” “We are here if you need anything.” The support was overwhelming, but also greatly appreciated. I never felt alone in my fight. The support surrounded me and made me strong.
Fading into the back
But then all the well wishes and check-in’s began to taper off. The “here for you” notes started to feel empty. Everyone faded into the background, only to surface when I posted an updated photo or post on social media. Going from the extreme of everyone standing around me to feeling very alone and left out was a tough adjustment. It felt like dealing with my cancer was just too much for people to handle. So what do you do when the cards and flowers stop? What happens when those around you start to experience support fatigue?
Initially, I was bitter. I felt left out of things and it was almost as if people did not care when I was not outwardly sick. I honestly thought because I was not getting better or dying, I just wasn’t as interesting anymore. But I have come to realize that at some point we all experience support fatigue. As much as being “the sick friend” stinks, it can be just as hard being the supporter of the sick friend.
Taking back control
Rather than wallowing in my own self-pity, I took control of the narrative. I periodically keep my friends, coworkers, and extended family up to date with generally how the whole cancer thing is going. But now I also try to give them time to just be my friends, my teammates, and my family without me needing their shoulder to lean on. I have also had to break through my own hang-ups about asking for help. Instead of feeling alone or helpless when things are tough, I reach out and communicate exactly what I need.
When I need to get all my worries off my chest, I will text my sister letting her know I need to vent. When I need a good laugh I can call up my best friend in California. I have let my gal pals know I can certainly still go to ladies' night. And when I need someone to keep me company on the infusion floor I know just who is available.
Communicating needs openly
Instead of expecting the people around me to just know when and what kind of support I need, I let them know clearly and concisely. I also don’t take it to heart when there are those who just do not have the capacity to give any more support. We are all going through so much between a global health crisis, jobs, families, and more. The bucket of support we can give to others is not bottomless and sometimes you have to step back. Give grace to people.
So yes, sometimes there are people who only give me a “thumbs up” on my latest cancer updates. But I take comfort in knowing I have a huge crew of supporters around me and even if there are times I feel alone, I am most definitely not alone in this fight.
How long did you wait before telling others about your diagnosis?