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I feel a little socially awkward after cancer

Posts: 5
Joined: Aug 2011

Does anyone else feel the same? I'm 10 months out of treatment, and I breezed through my treatment, didn't have a particularly hard time, so I have no excuses for not being back to "normal"! But when I hang out with my friends, when we talk, I often can't help feeling we're in 2 different worlds. I carry on the conversation, but I'm often really disinterested in what we're talking about. I don't feel mentally engaged in the conversation. I'm 31, diagnosed and treated at 30. Now I go to clubs and I feel it's all a little silly and immature, I listen to my friends complain about work and I feel it's so trivial get over it.

And when I meet new people, I feel a little more socially awkward, like I don't really know what to say to them, how to break the ice.. Before (before cancer) I had no problems talking to strangers, mingling at parties, flirting with guys... I wasn't the best conversationalist around, but I definitely didn't feel at a loss for words so much. I did the MBTI test again and I have gone from a strong extrovert pre-cancer to almost-introvert... I've become a little more random and spontaneous, and in a little world of my own....

palmyrafan's picture
Posts: 397
Joined: Mar 2011

You are trying to find your way back to normal and you have found that your old normal is not quite the right fit. You have also discovered what many people don't discover until they are much older or may even never discover: what it is that truly matters to you.

You say you aren't comfortable doing some of the same things you used to and talking to your friends feels rather awkward. What you are describing is a need to appreciate the new you; the way you are now. You have had a tremendous scare with your cancer diagnosis and to those of us who have had it, are going through it or just recently diagnosed, we have found new priorities and what matters most in life. Again, normal.

I would suggest finding new activities that are important to you. Only you know what they are. Volunteering? Hobbies, sports or physical exercise programs? It may take a little while, but you will discover what really matters to you and you will find your way there.

Good luck!


Posts: 5
Joined: Aug 2011

Thank you, Teresa. I think I've found what's important to me, and I wanted to make it my new career, but I just don't feel very confident at all that I'll be able to do this. Not to mention the lethargy I feel a lot. I just seem to be doing things very slowly and in a very unsure way these days...

What you are describing is a need to appreciate the new you; the way you are now.
--> thank you for this, I keep reading this over and over again.

bluerose's picture
Posts: 1102
Joined: Jul 2009

What you are describing is totally normal and we all have experienced that to some degree, well the majority of us I think I can safely say. I sure did and still do actually.

I myself truly believe that after a diagnosis of cancer we will always describe our lives as BEFORE CANCER and AFTER CANCER. That is because before cancer we were blissfully unattached to the idea that we ourselves have an expiry date. We don't think about our own mortality til we come face to face with something that could be life threatening and then, like Teresa said, it's a huge shock. All of a sudden our lives are put into priorities and things that used to seem very important fade when compared to our own survival. It's natural for the mind to then start re-prioritizing.

It is still all very new to you. The mind and the body have been assaulted by treatments and it's still trying to recouperate even though technically you felt it was a pretty easy time, you body was working overtime to fight the cancer and still is to some degree. Your mind is trying to refocus too, in a sense, refocus on your life now and how it was before. It's a huge change for mind and body.

Give it all some time. I have never felt the same as everyone else who never had cancer and still do feel separate from them. It's just that we have learned alot about life in one short period, things we never thought much about perhaps, and survival became our main goal from the time of diagnosis. That is a big change. Survival is always first for the body. Survival mode. You will become better in social situations but what you feel now is that separation of knowing that we all are mere mortals and the others haven't gotten there yet as they haven't perhaps been faced with that realization. That does separate us into two groups in a sense so what you are feeling is normal. Truly, you will even out in time. Cancer truly humbles a person, brings them to their knees in some ways with the diagnosis, you will get back up and become an even stronger person I am sure. You have more strength than you give yourself credit for through the journey. Cancer survivors may be weakened in body at some point but they are certainly not weak in spirit. There comes a great injection of strength I have found throughout the experience, as many many have as well. You included.

Teresa had a good suggestion of perhaps taking up some new interest or volunteering. Many cancer survivors, after treatments and recovery, have a strong need to volunteer - maybe it's giving back for surviving I don't know, but that is really common too. Helping others is a great way to get yourself back and you are helping others in the process. It's very rewarding. Use what you have learned to help newbies who are just starting out in the cancer journey perhaps.

You will come back to your centre soon and if you don't and find that you are not happy with how you are feeling don't hesitate to seek a grief counsellor in your area. You go through the stages of grief during a cancer journey and you don't want to get stuck in one of the stages. You are grieving the loss of your healthy life without a cancer diagnosis and where you are now still feels unfamiliar. Lots of us seek counselling just to make sure we are still 'firing on all pistons' as I like to say. lol.

I am a 25 year cancer surivor and I have learned a great many things on my cancer journey. The changes that are seen after experiencing cancer isn't all a bad thing. It can make you a better person and one who knows what truly is important in life after all. You will get there. Take heart.

Hugs and blessings,


Posts: 5
Joined: Aug 2011

Thank you, bluerose. Yes, I find myself talking about the me before cancer, and it strikes me it's the same way my parents talk about their childhood and their younger days. On the one hand I don't want to make pre and post cancer differences more of an issue than it is. On the other hand I think it's only healthy to admit that some things have changed, and it is only natural that they change.

I did feel the urge to volunteer or to help. Several months after my cancer, a friend of mine also got diagnosed. When I knew, I reached out to him and we talked about our feelings, our treatments and all. Soon after he went back to his old life, but I haven't, for some reason. I feel like I'm the only one here still nursing my cancer pain, still unable to get over it, while he's moved on back.

Posts: 12
Joined: Nov 2007

I have had the same experience, but I'm more than twice your age. I thought my age had something to do with it. Through my first diagnosis, surgery and subsequent radiation and chemo, and then recurrence, surgery, and 2 years of maintenance chemotherapy, I have had a lot of sitting around time. One theme that occupied my time was considering what was truly important, and what wasn't. Twice, I truly expected to die within 6 months and had to get affairs in order. I was constantly prioritizing to do lists. I needed to streamline everything about my life. When I returned to work, it was usually for a half day after which I'd go home and go to bed to get ready for the next day. Many tasks couldn't and didn't get done and I was constantly dismissing things that I surprisingly decided weren't important to do. I even found myself piping up and offering my opinion about the unimportance of things that were being discussed at faculty meetings. That didn't go over too well.

Can you even remember what that normal you talk about was REALLY like? It's no different that what you are hearing around you now. You're just finally listening AND HEARING the drivel.

I tool tolerated the frivolous conversations going on around me in social situations. I'd go home and ponder if I had heard anything important. The answer was NO. I could no longer respond to "I was . . like. . ." and didn't even bother to have the person explain what they were like anymore.

I even had to quit watching the news because when I was actually listening, I discovered that they were only offering opinions, and conjecture, never actual facts or in depth stories.

So, expand that world that you now find yourself in. When people seem to be talking around you and saying nothing, smile inwardly and their foolishness, and start asking questions and looking for friends who actually engage in intelligent conversation. A writer's group might be a great place to start.

What you have really become is a philosopher or a seeker os wisdom. Is there such a thing as a philosopher's group?

Certainly, you are not alone. I expect great things are waiting for you to make them happen.

Posts: 5
Joined: Aug 2011

sorry double post

Posts: 5
Joined: Aug 2011

I'm starting to think it's not an age thing. I've always been philosophical! And became more so after cancer! :)

I just wish I have more drive to make those great things happen.....

Posts: 12
Joined: Nov 2007

You say you now have difficulty conversing with others since treatment. I've always had difficulty conversing with others. But I noticed others who knew me were able to come up with 2 conversation starters:

1. How are you? And I never liked to complain when I felt this was just the standard greeting. I started looking for different positive ways to reply like, "Better and better every day!"

To help others not dealing with cancer talk to those who are, a wonderful conversation starter I learned at ACS web site is to ask the cancer patient, "What are you feeling?" It makes us think you really want to know what is going on down deep, and are willing to take the time to listen to what we are really experiencing physically, emotionally. . .

2. "Gee, You look great!!' Well, I didn't. And I still don't. But I finally decided they really meant, "You still have your hair."
I never lost it through either set of full-dose chemo rounds. And I started to feel guilty that I hadn't lost it, at least where they could see. So I finally started accepting the compliment out loud and returning one (hopefully a little more insightful), and thinking, "Boy, they must be blind."

3. I switched my spot to eat lunch and kept looking for people who seemed willing to try to talk about important subjects.

4. I quit going to clubs. Drinking was out of the question with all of the pain killers and chemo. Besides, if I drank a soda, nothing in the "conversations" seemed funny even though everyone laughed. Nor did any comment sound important, or any argument convincing. I decided not to waste money or time there. I suddenly realized I'd never find what I was looking for there.

5. I find that I now write too much in e-mails, on blogs, and forget instant messaging!!

6. But all of that has led me to be more quiet--I listen more. I am more spontaneous, because when something interesting comes my way, I jump at the chance to experience it. Like going to NC to see the leaves turn for the first time in my life.

7. I don't find myself instigating the spontaneity like I did in the past, but if the opportunity presents, I jump.

8. I don't feel these changes are detrimental to me or anyone else. I feel more "me."

9. I am at a loss for a word quite often and that is frustrating. I get to it 3 sentences too late by thinking or saying (horrors) "Oh, what is that word? it starts with ______. " Once in a while, someone actually figures out what I am trying to remember. And even worse when I lose track of where I am headed with a story I'm telling, or a point I'm making. And forget getting the punchline right. I don't even try anymore. This is probably beginning Alzheimers but for now, I"m blaming it on Chemo fog.

So, I'm going to quit and give you a song which has meant a lot to me as I have pondered these things.
"Was That My Life? sung by Jo Dee Messina. You have many years ahead of you to determine what is important and to live your life so that you have no regrets.

Posts: 20
Joined: Aug 2011

I feel the same way. I LAUGH now when I read facebook and people are whinning about the stupidest things and are so upset over petty stuff. I let things go now that used to drive me nuts.
You have discovered what matters the most in life, embrace it. You have learned to cheerish every minute, GOOD, appreciate that fact.
I have had a hard time reconnecting with some of my friends that tend to be negative Nellys. At this point in my life I am not sure if I even want to.

You will find a balance in things, give it time. Don't be worried that things may never be totally like they were "before", that is not such a bad thing.

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