Many people living with breast cancer feel awkward about seeing friends and family, especially if they haven’t seen them for a while. During treatment, you may feel physically tired and run-down or worried about how your treatment is progressing. You likely aren’t feeling like your regular self, and you may look physically different, too. Will others understand what you’re going through? Will you still be able to connect?
Socializing Is Healthy
Every year, around 230,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer. Feelings of distress, turmoil, chronic stress, anxiety, and depression are common during the breast cancer treatment journey. Add the practical reality that cancer treatment can take a lot of time out of your day, and hanging out or attending events can feel like a big ask.
But a study that looked at socialization and breast cancer found that women who had stronger social ties were both more likely to recover and less likely to get breast cancer again. A little strategic mingling can be good for you, and you can take steps to feel ready.
Choose How You Get Back Out There
If it’s been a while since you did much socializing, look for ways to ease yourself into it. For some people, that means starting small by doing things one-on-one, and others may prefer group activities to divide the attention.
Decide How Much to Share
With some of your closest friends, you may want to share details and explanations about your treatment and progress. For others, you might want to keep things more general. If you’re nervous talking with friends, spend some time beforehand planning what you’d like to say. Consider asking close friends for support and explaining what that means to you, like still inviting you to things even if you can’t always go.
Prioritize Your Comfort
What to wear might seem like a silly worry compared to the other challenges you’re tackling. But as your body changes during treatment, your self-confidence may shift, too. Think comfort first, and reach for mastectomy clothing or soft garments designed not to poke or prod scars, ports, or other sensitive areas.
Try putting away the clothes that don’t fit, and take the opportunity to reinvent your style. Consider what favorite accessories you’d like to incorporate, or try out a makeup look that highlights a feature you love. Feeling confident is a key part of feeling comfortable, too.
Focus on an Activity
Group activities allow you to pursue something you’re interested in while in the company of others — without all the attention being focused on you. Yoga classes, for example, let you be around people who aren’t only there to socialize. It’s also been shown to have significant mental and physiological health benefits for people with cancer.
Classes and regular events offer an added bonus. Seeing the same faces regularly can provide a sense of intimacy and care that you might not feel in other, more randomized social situations.
Connect in Family or Group Therapy
You can also try family or group therapy with your loved ones. A medical health counselor or mediator can help you share your thoughts and feelings in an organized setting. Even if your friends and family are very supportive, you might also like to connect with others who have personal experiences similar to your own, like in a cancer support group.
Embrace Events at Your Pace
Chances are, if you haven’t socialized in a long time, you might not feel totally in your element at a big event or with people you haven’t seen in a while — and that’s OK. Sometimes it just takes time to feel comfortable again. Whether you’ve psyched yourself up for a group class, the date of a long-awaited event has arrived, or you just decided to call that one friend back, you can take steps to socialize confidently and on your own terms.
Let Yourself Be Awkward
Even pointing out how awkward or strange you feel can make it easier. Most people deal with social anxiety in one way or another, especially after lockdowns and social distancing. Bonding over awkward feelings can open you up to honest conversations, making for more personal socializing.
Take It Slow
Ease yourself into socializing slowly, don’t rush yourself, and avoid making ambitious plans. It’s OK to say no if you aren’t feeling up to it, which can be a vital part of taking care of yourself and your well-being.
But it’s OK to say yes, too, even if that means participating in a limited capacity. Honor your progress and do as much socializing as you’re comfortable with. Over time, the idea of socializing may become easier when you have a larger community that you feel values, sees, and understands you.