When cancer appears, our identity as friends or family members can change – though becoming a carer or just in our relationships due to stress and worry. But what about when the person who has cancer seems to change – maybe so much that you hardly recognise them?
I already talked about loss of a role by which we define ourselves (through becoming a carer) here. This is obviously also an issue for those dealing with their own cancer – either through temporary leave or through having to give up a job or role. This can have an additional effect on someone as well as their feelings and fears over the illness. Of course a job is not our real identity, though it can seem so. Stephen Fry expressed it well in an interview in Radio Times magazine : “We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person doing things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next.”
Loss of identity can also go to a deeper level. Think of how you might describe yourself were you to join a dating site, or on a job application. You could describe yourself as gregarious; fun-loving; sensitive; optimistic; focused; hard-working etc. But if you had cancer any of these could change, leaving you somewhat at sea as to who you are now.
If this happens to someone you care about, little wonder if their behaviour changes accordingly. It could leave you wondering what has happened to the relationship or the person you knew.
Here are a few points that might help if you find yourself in this situation:
- Change is natural; after all none of us like the same activities or use the same behaviours we did at the age of five (at least I hope not).
- The personality change might be temporary but any words you say in the heat of the moment cannot be unsaid, so try to respond rather than react.
- You might need a friend or chat room to unload to at times you feel extra frustrated.
- A changed relationship does not have to mean a worse relationship.
- The person needs to find out for themselves who the ‘new them’ might be. If you give them space to do this you may enjoy getting to know them too.