Living with Cancer – Understanding Sycophants

Interesting blog title, eh? I have been doing some thinking about this for some time. Today is day 2 back at the office after my surgery. The fact that I have time to blog this means that I haven’t fully re-engaged again here at the office. That’s a topic for another time though. 🙂

Today’s topic is about the type of people who associate themselves with you once you have cancer. When I was first diagnosed with cancer my fear, anxiety, and angst were so high that I had to tell pretty much everyone about my condition. It was as if by talking about it I was forcing the reality of it into my life.

I would talk to strangers at the grocery store. Colleagues at the office. Friends. Family. Loved ones. As you can imagine, I got all kinds of different responses. Some responses made me feel uncomfortable.  I categorized most of them into just a few categories:

The Rubbernecker

The rubbernecker

The rubbernecker

Let’s take “The Rubbernecker”. The Rubbernecker is a person who comes by every day, sometimes multiple times a day, asking alarmingly personal questions in a disarming manner about your cancer. The nod their head sympathetically, making cooing noises, and pat you on the arm and wish you well.

The problem is, though, that this person is not really there to support you. That person is a sycophant. This person latches on to your misery, they seek you out, so that they can walk away feeling better about themselves. This is not maliciously done, mind you – in fact they often don’t realize they do it. This is “rubbernecking” syndrome. As they drive through the scene of your accident they leave and say “Thank God that’s not me.”

If you’ve driven near the scene of an accident, you know a single rubbernecker can cause tempers to flare, create an unnecessary backup, and halt the flow of critical services to the scene. The same holds true of cancer rubberneckers. Their fascination with your cancer can easily become a distraction to you and to others who are there to provide you with real support.

The Denyer

The Denyer

The Denyer

Then there is “The Denyer.” The Denyer is a person who doesn’t know how to acknowledge that you have a life-threatening disease and wants to pretend like it isn’t there at all. This person tries to be there for you but doesn’t know how because your cancer sits between the two of you like a big white elephant. This person eventually walks away from you and makes statements like “I will not celebrate you in sickness or in death. I will only celebrate you in life.” (true statement to me)

That’s not to say the Denyer isn’t a true friend. They can be the BEST of friends with you under normal circumstances. The Denyer just can’t handle the fact that by acknowledging your cancer they also acknowledge their own mortality. Their own fear drives them away and they cannot support you as a result.

That’s the heart of the matter; fear. In some people fear turns to anger and that’s what happens to the Denyer.

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man is the friend who calls, emails, or somehow makes it known that he/she will be there for you but never seems to show up. This person has the best intentions, supposedly, but can’t get their life together long enough to even come see a friend in the hospital. This procrastination and avoidance of you in your time of need only serves to highlight that these people may not be your true friends after all. Sometimes this is exactly what we need to find out who stands with us and who stands apart.

This person causes a lot of unresolved grief in your life. In my case, I had a number of people I considered to be very close friends. People who I shared my life with. When their empty promises became apparent and they never showed I had to deal with feelings of loss, anger, and abandonment. They never showed up when I needed them most. The went radar silent and taught me that they were not my real friends. And then I had to deal with that emotional blow on top of my angst and feelings I was battling with as I battled my cancer.

The Real Supporter

I can’t end without nodding my head toward the real supporters who have entered my life. They are there and they are wonderful. A true supporter is there, day or night, when you need them. They do not intrude on you or ask for details. Invariably all they ever ask is “Are you ok?” or “How can I help?”

The Real Supporter feeds you when you are too weak after surgery. They sit by your side for hours at a time, saying nothing – just being there for you. They take you seriously when you need to talk and do not try to convince you that your fears are unfounded. They cry with you when you cry and laugh when you laugh.

It’s really important when dealing with cancer to find the right type of people to associate with. There are a lot of people who claim they are supporting you (and actually believe it) but they are not. Find your real supporters and surround yourself with them – and always let them know how much you care and appreciate them.

To all my Real supporters out there – thank you. I love you all.

4 Responses to “Living with Cancer – Understanding Sycophants”

  1. Interesting post. I liked it. My situation similar and not, in that the majority of my friends and acquaintances are on the net only, me living in France and they, by and large in Britain or the US. I have had minimal contact with people because I initially had issues over being seen and interacting post op. One friend though, it a definite sycophant, her questioning seeming to be a process of inserting herself into my situation. The joke is that now I feel sorry for her partner who recently suffered breast cancer and must have had that morning, noon and night! She, the partner, has been a true supporter, helpful and accommodating when asked, very far from intrusive otherwise.

    I coached softball when in Britain, all young (ish) adults, who year on year I would take to a tournament in the States. That process makes for some intense relationships but I have been surprised at how few people have been in contact and how many of those who have been in contact did it once and never again. Understandable but still I thought I was more important 🙂

    • Hey Don; I know what you mean. The thing is, you are more important, but people just truly don’t understand how to deal with us when we are fighting cancer. I wrote another blog in this series: HERE and concluded the “series” HERE.


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    […] 1: Living With Cancer – Understanding Sycophants Part 2: What do Fish and Cancer Have in […]

  2. What do Fish and Cancer Have in Common? | The Binary Biker - July 30, 2011

    […] was titled “Living with Cancer – Understanding Sycophants” and you can read it HERE. It details the types of people who come into your life thinking they are helping you but are […]

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