Coping with loneliness and isolation
It’s common for anyone affected by cancer to feel lonely or isolated. These feelings can occur at any stage of the illness: at the time of diagnosis, or during or after treatment.
Isolation can have a real, negative impact on your health and wellbeing. Recognising this will help you get the support you need.
We are here for you.
There are many reasons why you might feel alone. It may be because you feel that no one understands what you’re going through, or that other people are trying to be so positive that you can’t say what you genuinely feel. Or it may be that your appearance has changed as a result of the cancer or its treatment. For example, some cancer treatments can cause hair loss or weight loss. These changes can add to your sense of being isolated and different from those around you. You can still feel lonely even if you’re surrounded by people close to you.
The sense of isolation can be made worse if you find it difficult to talk about your situation. It can be hard to tell your family and friends how you really feel, as you may want to protect them from a distressing conversation. You may tell them you’re fine even when you’re not. You may find yourself giving people other reasons for not being yourself, such as ‘I’m just feeling tired.’
You may find that the less you talk about it, the more the cancer becomes all you think about, and the more alone you feel. Finding the courage to talk to just one person can be the first step towards helping you feel better.
If you live alone
If you live by yourself, you can feel even more alone and unsure of who to turn to. You may also have practical things to sort out. For example, you may need to work out who will look after your pet when you’re in hospital, or how you’ll do everyday tasks like shopping when you’re back at home.
Some people have family and friends who live nearby. But if you don’t have anyone near to you, it may be hard to know where to get help. You may find it helpful to join a local cancer support group, where you can meet people in a similar situation.
The internet has become a common way of socialising and keeping in touch with people. There are a number of online groups for people affected by cancer.
What may help
There are many things you can do to help you feel less isolated and also help you manage your emotions. Different things work for different people, so you may need to try a few to see what you find the most helpful.
We're here to answer your questions, talk through any problems, or just to have a chat. Our support line is open Monday - Friday, 9am-8pm.
You're not alone. Meet other people who understand cancer, how it affects your life, and what can help. Our online community is a place for you to share experiences and support.
Talking to family and friends
You’re most likely to feel comfortable talking to your family and friends about how you feel. They know you and you may have been through difficult experiences together in the past. They can hopefully give you the support you need.
See our section on relationships and communication for more information on talking about cancer.
But not everyone has family or friends, and some people find it difficult to talk to people close to them. In this case, you may find it easier to speak to someone you don’t know so well, such as a work colleague or a counsellor.
Counselling and professional help
There are many organisations that can provide counselling and emotional support. You can also ask your doctor or nurse to tell you about any local counselling services that may be available to you. The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has a website that allows you to search for counsellors.
You might find it helpful to watch our video about how counselling can help people with cancer and their friends and relatives. Then you could decide whether counselling could be helpful for you too.
Self-help and support groups
Many areas of the UK have cancer support groups or information and support centres. Sometimes these groups are led by healthcare professionals. You may find that other members of the group are in a similar position to you. But it’s quite usual for a group to include people with different types and stages of cancer. This wider experience may help you look at your own problems from different perspectives. To find a support group in your area, see our page on cancer support groups.
There are a number of support groups on the internet. Some are aimed at particular types of cancer, while others are more general. You can speak to people in chat rooms and forums or, if you prefer, just read other people’s entries.
This can be very helpful and can ease feelings of isolation. Other people’s experiences can help you learn how to cope with treatment and how to live with cancer.
Online communities are easy to join and leave, without any need for personal contact or explanations. You can use our Online Community to talk to people in our chat rooms, blog your journey, make friends and join support groups.
You need to set up your Online Community account on our site that's designed for desktop computers, but then you'll be able to access it on your mobile too.
Speaking to healthcare professionals
You can talk about your fears, anxieties and worries to your GP or your cancer specialists. If you have a cancer nurse, you can call them for support even after you’ve returned home from hospital. For more information, see our section on getting professional help.