PUBLISHED ON: 11 October 2018

Leanne’s social circle diminished when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She shares what she learnt from this experience and why her support network is stronger than ever.

Leanne and her sisters

Before breast cancer I was a social butterfly

One thing that becomes clear when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer is who is there for you and who is not. You find out who your support network is – the people you rely on to support you in all different aspects of your life.

My support network before my breast cancer diagnosis hadn’t changed much over the past few years. It was family, friends, colleagues and mentors.

Before breast cancer, I was a self-proclaimed work addict and social butterfly. I was used to being out of my house for most of the day. I admit, I rarely had a day off, but I prided myself on being there for people in my support network when I was needed.

I would drop everything to be there for them. I’d do whatever they needed, whether it be advice, lifts, financial help, company, an impromptu night out on the lash – you name it, I was there.

I would have moved heaven and earth for any one of them, never asking for anything in return.

I didn’t want to show I was vulnerable

In the early days of my diagnosis, I needed my support network more than ever.

I didn’t want to show them I was vulnerable, as I was usually the one helping others, not the other way around. But when they asked me that same question of how they could help, I had to be honest with them – ‘I just don’t want to do this alone.’

I’m not sure if that answer sat right with certain people or not, but it prompted a huge eye-opener for me. Some members of my so-called support network completely blanked me and didn’t get in touch at all. Some distanced themselves from me once I revealed my diagnosis and what my outlook was. Some just went on with their normal life and treated my breast cancer like it was a day-to-day occurrence.

These were the people I’ve called my mentors, father figures, family away from family, holiday buddies, but most importantly, friends. Where were they?

It’s amazing how many friends you lose when you can’t drink, socialise or give your time any more. Is breast cancer really that anti-social?

I made excuses for people

I spent a lot of time making excuses for certain people just in case they called. Maybe they feel uncomfortable? Maybe they’re scared?

I’ve now come to the realisation that none of that matters when you haven’t bothered to see how someone is doing after an operation. Or going through a set of scans to see if the cancer has spread. Or started chemotherapy.

Leanne and attendees of her breast cancer networking lunch

I have learnt to forgive them

It took me a while to stomach it all. It was an unnecessary stress that I didn’t need whilst going through my treatment. There are some people I will never speak to again, simply because I thought, ‘If you’re not there for me during the toughest parts of my life, why should you be there for the good?’

I decided that forgiveness was the only way forward. I’ve forgiven them in my heart and mind because I know that their behaviour was more of a reflection of themselves, rather than of me. They showed me who they really are.

My new support network has blossomed

Out of my breast cancer, my new support network blossomed. I call it my ‘Magic Circle’ and the renewal and cleanse of this has been one of the most amazing gifts of my breast cancer journey.

Remember when you were always advised to count the number of friends you have on one hand? Well, that’s me.

I have amazing people who I know I can rely on. Family members who remind me every day why family are family. Friends who checked in on me when no one else did, stayed with me during my anxiety and panic attacks, went out of their way to do things to make me smile and would drop everything to help me. They didn’t try to fit me around their schedule, or only see me when convenient.

‘Sorry, I haven’t checked in on you Leanne, I’ve just been busy’. A word of advice – don’t ever say that to someone who’s going through breast cancer.

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