When people are first diagnosed with cancer, they might not realize how much their personality will affect how they feel about needing or asking for support. But it does.
When people are first diagnosed with cancer, they might not realize how much their personality will affect how they feel about needing or asking for support. As an introvert, I found it difficult to share my story with most people. Why would they be interested in my health? I thought I would be judged as a “complainer,” and often felt alone, scared and unable to reach out.
While introverts are typically people who turn inwards, extroverts tend to be energized by social interactions. As I read stories about cancer patients, I saw how extroverts reached out and shared their pain, suffering and fears, while surrounding themselves with support. Because of this, I realized both ways of handling a diagnosis had merit. By learning to choose a few people in my life who I felt comfortable sharing my story with, I was able to establish a balance with communication and my needs as an introvert.
Of course, introversion and extraversion don’t determine survival rates or risk factors when it comes to cancer. In fact, members of the Molecular Carcinogenesis and Cancer Control Program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute — where I was treated — say that when we think of introversion and extraversion, we need to remember that they exist on a continuum. For introverts like me, loneliness and isolation might keep us from reaching out. Although extroverts seek support more readily and more widely than introverts, introverts aren’t less happy than extroverts. For introverts, casting a wide net of support might not be as beneficial for our overall well-being, and might actually make us feel worse because it is inconsistent with our disposition.
As I progressed throughout my journey with cancer, I found that what I was struggling the most with was loved ones sharing updates or seeking support regarding my diagnosis when I was much more private. Because introverts and extroverts often have different communication styles, they also may have different thresholds for what is private and what they’re willing to share. I found that communicating what made me uncomfortable and what I was willing to compromise created comfort by all who were in my circle of care.
For those in your life who are more extroverted, it can be helpful to identify which parts of your experience you’re comfortable with them sharing. For example, you can say to them: I don’t want you to share anything about my experience, but feel free to share yours. Additionally, with social media, it’s easy to forget about what friends and family you have in real life who might be part of your support network. As a private person trying to process my cancer diagnosis, I was also struggling with sharing updates with loved ones. By creating a private group of close friends and family to seek support and share inner thoughts, I began to accept their emotional care.
By opening lines of communication, unexpected support surfaced and enriched my life in ways I would never have imagined. I realized the importance of cultivating one’s inner circle, and I saw that the need and ability to share were the same among introverts and extroverts, just expressed differently. Throughout my journey, I’ve found we all gather supports close to our hearts and share in ways that allow us safety and comfort. Each person has his or her own unique way of dealing with a cancer diagnosis, and by being open with yourself and others about your needs, you can establish the type of support that will be most beneficial to your long-term care.