Do you know that feeling of isolation?

This week has been an incredibly busy week on social-media for me. Last weeks post found it’s way to many lovely people out there who shared and shared, till I think at last count we had 31 re-tweets of one link alone! Although my work is cancer focused of course, I try to talk on subjects that will affect all of us at some stage.

Watching the news in recent weeks, I was shocked to see how physically isolated, a lot of our older generation has become. Nearly 1 in 5 older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week; and for 1in 10 it’s less than once a month. Half of all older people in the UK, about 5 million, say the television is their main company. This seems like it may be a cultural issue, with many older people preferring their independence, and not wishing to feel like they are a burden on their family. However that feeling of isolation, can be a very destructive force, first mentally and then eventually physically.

I have chosen to talk about the feeling of isolation today as I feel that it is one of the major side effects of a cancer diagnosis, and one that unfortunately is very difficult to deal with. The first major hurdle is actually recognising the problem. Then an even bigger issue is acceptance. If you have never had those feelings it will be very difficult to understand, how someone can feel isolated, particularly when they are continually surrounded by family and friends, which many of us are.

During my frequent meetings, with people affected by cancer, I am continually shocked, how I have to actually ask people if they feel isolated. It is something I have encountered, that affects almost everyone I talk to. However, many people feel awkward about mentioning it. I have also found it is a subject that is hardly ever discussed between partners. The main reason I have discovered for this, is the fear that the other person will not understand.

This is yet another side effect, that is rarely talked about openly. Doctors don’t ask, and patients don’t mention it. Something else to make the situation more complicated! Every diagnosis of cancer is unique, and will affect everyone differently. That is why there is not one single answer to this. But in most cases, it is not about taking more drugs or seeing a counsellor, which tend to be the common alternatives, if you mention that you feel differently, either psychologically or emotionally.

My feeling is that unfortunately, we are all seen as our disease, and not necessarily as a ‘person.’ When we see our clinicians, rarely are they able to see beyond what is wrong with us, into our life, and the part we play in society. A father, a husband, an entrepreneur etc. None of that rarely comes into the picture. This is where I feel we need a much more holistic approach to treatment.

There are signs that at last these issues are being recognised, with the introduction of a Holistic Needs Assessment Tool, developed by Macmillan Cancer Support, but that is still at the ‘pilot’ stage. Also the very successful #notalone campaign, which is raising awareness of the isolation issue. But in my opinion, so much is still left unsaid to the patient.

I see a massive irony here too. Despite the fact that we are finding an increasing number of ways to communicate with each other, we are also struggling more, with the feeling of isolation. How crazy does that sound? This is not only true for people affected by cancer. I mentioned the example of older people earlier, but if you really think about it, there are times when we all struggle with those feelings.

Whilst at school, or at work, or in a social gathering, we have all had times where we have felt isolated. Not physically, but mentally. Simply put, if we feel that we are different to other people in any way, we can feel isolated. Most of us are independent, and prefer not to look for help, we maybe see that as a sign of weakness? I’m quite possibly one of the worst examples of that!

For me, social-media has been one of the greatest tools to help with that feeling. Of course, I am the only one travelling my journey, but I am aided by others who have also travelled it, who are there for me when needed. There are no hidden agendas, and they ask for nothing in return. They just ‘get it!’ Unfortunately, many people who would also benefit, are as yet unable to sample the joys of the Internet, due to lack of knowledge, or affordable equipment.

In summary, the feeling of isolation after a cancer diagnosis is fairly normal, and is one of the main reason’s I started this blog. I can’t pretend to know the answer, but my offer for improvement is to make patients aware of it early on, so they don’t feel that they are the only people feeling like that, as many still are today!



  1. A part with much folios for thought, Chris. It is surprising to hear older people can have so little outside interaction. Television is nice, but it doesn’t beat real friends and lived one. I am so sorry to hear this is the case for many. ~Catherine

    • Hi Catherine

      It certainly is sad to hear about older people. Those stats were for the UK so I don’t know if it is different where you are. However as we all know, the feeling of isolation can affect us all, including young people.

      In my experience it is one of the biggest issues that people affected by cancer face, however very few people talk about it, so I thought I would like to bring it into the spotlight.

      My thanks as always for taking the time to comment. That is much valued, Chris

    • Hi Nick!

      Actually, it’s a good point you make. We are good pals and we have become isolated from each other because of our work. There are many forms of isolation.

      We will speak next week for sure!! Chris

  2. Thanks for a great post, Chris. You certainly bring light to issues many individual patients feel, no matter what the diagnosis or illness. Part of it is, as you describe, wondering how anyone will understand or relate. But the beauty of that is these days so many others are actually going through what an individual might be. And as you say there are social supports out there, even if by technology and social media. The other reason, at least to me, for a feeling of isolation is that one is feeling isolated from self. Once we receive news that our body is not as it was or is not in the health we would like it to be, we feel a certain isolation from the self we once knew. In order to feel safe connecting with others, we must first accept and totally love ourselves unconditionally. That means the illness part of it too. Once we can love us then we may find it easier to search for connection from others. Enjoyed reading! Thank you, Elizabeth

  3. Hi Elizabeth

    Welcome to the blog, and thanks for your comments. You have made a very important point there, and one I hadn’t considered when writing the piece. It is possible to become disconnected from the ‘old you.’ I know that is something I have personally struggled with for many years. I don’t even know if I have truly accepted the ‘new me?’

    I am always pleased when people drop by to comment, as there are so many things to learn from sharing. Your comments were personally enlightening, and I know that our readers will also enjoy them.

    So pleased that you enjoyed the piece, and I look forward to welcoming you back soon, Chris

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