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Dear Annie: Friendship, cancer and a ‘new normal’

Friends having coffee

Dear Annie My friend’s been diagnosed with secondary cancer. It doesn’t change the way I feel about her, but the way we talk is different to how it used to be.

If I’m honest, it’s because I’m scared. I don’t want to lose her. How can I be the ‘normal’ me that she needs? – HL

Annie says: I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s illness. It’s a frightening moment when we’re confronted with the fragility of life through a friend’s suffering.

I can imagine that things feel a little different with her, especially if the diagnosis is still fairly recent. It’s a major adjustment – bringing illness into your life, and a relationship – and it takes time for it to learn about to talk about it and for it to feel ‘normal’ as you say.

I think what can often happen is that there is a tendency to try and keep the ‘norm’ by not talking about the illness, and so there remains this massive unspoken thing between two people, a huge obstacle in the way of your friendship.

The reality is, the illness is there, and perhaps counterintuitively, the more space it is given – the more it is welcomed into your dialogues – the less it will get in the way.

I would really encourage you to name what you are feeling with your friend: Tell her your fear; you will almost certainly be naming something she is feeling as well. So offer her that bridge – find out what she actually needs from you, and then you can both make your own new 'normal' together.

If you’ve lost someone close to you, or been affected by a bereavement, psychotherapist Annie Broadbent is here to help. If you have a question for her to answer in this column, write to her at DearAnnie@funeralguide.com

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counselor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling book Speaking of Death(What the Bereaved Really Need) , inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at a hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence

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