Why Didn’t My Friend Tell Me About Her Cancer Diagnosis?

by Msnbctv news staff

A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The problem: She hasn’t told me. (I overheard her husband talking about it: Her illness was discovered during routine medical tests. She was having a hard time getting pregnant — which she also didn’t tell me.) I thought we were close, but I guess we’re not. Her decision to exclude me from these issues in her life hurts me and puts me in an awkward situation. What can I say if I’m not supposed to know about these big challenges she’s facing? I’m not sure how to handle this. Advice, please?


Let’s start by fleshing out your real question: “I love my friend, and I’m upset that she’s facing a scary diagnosis. How can I support her if she doesn’t confide in me?” Because as long as your true goal is to help her (and not force her to confide in you), I think we can come up with a good plan.

For many of us, serious diagnoses are like slaps across the face: surprising, painful, overwhelming, infuriating. And people have all kinds of reasons for sharing or withholding information about their health. Don’t take her decision as a referendum on your friendship. (It isn’t!) More important, respect her privacy. This crisis is hers to manage.

My suggestion: Continue to be the best friend you can be. Check in with her; invite her to hang out. Even if she declines, she’ll probably appreciate your kindness. Never hint that you know something is up. She’ll tell you when she’s ready. Until she does, spending time with friends who don’t know about our troubles can sometimes feel like a brief vacation from them. Now, that’s a true gift of friendship!

Our neighbor rents an apartment in his home to a young couple. They smoke on their front stoop all day. (It’s three feet from our front windows and porch, and we smell it.) We asked them nicely to move further away, but they quickly returned to the stoop. So, we keep our windows closed and stopped using the porch. Our salvation was our small backyard. But now, the owner’s adult daughter moved back home and smokes out there. Even though they have a big yard, they keep the ashtray very close to our property line. When we kindly asked the owner to move it, he became aggressive. Do we have to live in a sealed home?


I hate to break it to you, but creating lasting change often requires more than a single request. I think it’s reasonable to want to sit on your porch without smelling your neighbors’ cigarette smoke. Ask the young couple to move, nicely, every time you see them smoking on the stoop. Depending on the laws in your town and state, their secondhand smoke may be considered a nuisance.

Your backyard tale seems different. If I understand correctly, you don’t smell smoke there; you merely object to the placement of the ashtray. (That’s a losing battle.) If you do smell smoke, though, keep looking for a compromise with your gruff neighbor. There is probably some place on his large lawn where his daughter can smoke without disturbing you.

We were invited by friends for a weekend getaway in the country. They have a tiny bunkhouse for their family, and we will bring a tent. Cooking and other activities will take place outdoors. There will be kids and dogs and, sadly, rain. (It looks like lots of rain!) I want to ask our friends about changing dates. To me, it sounds awful being trapped in a tent with dogs and kids and nowhere to escape. But my partner thinks that’s rude: If our hosts don’t cancel, he says, we shouldn’t leave them in the lurch. Your thoughts?


You’re in luck! You have written to a wimp. Spending the weekend trapped in a tent with soggy dogs and children sounds miserable to me, too. And unlike your partner, I see no harm in floating the idea of switching to dryer dates. If your hosts are hardier than you and I, or dead-set on that weekend, they’ll let you know and you can re-evaluate your plans.

A few weeks ago, you answered a letter from a young woman who met a guy (who “seemed great”) on a dating app. He suggested a movie for their first date, but she was troubled by sitting indoors, even though they were both vaccinated. I am that guy! My question: Why didn’t she just tell me she was uncomfortable? It was only an idea.


Do you two actually want to go on a date or simply write about it forever? I didn’t read the woman’s letter as critical of you. Rather, she seemed to be asking if it was reasonable to express her discomfort, even though the venue was probably safe for both of you.

I advised her to respect her feelings and suggest a different activity. I give you the same advice. Now, go on your date already!

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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