Dear Prudence

My Longtime Friend Didn’t Tell Me She Had Cancer

She said she “needed our friendship to be normal.”

Left, older woman looking sad. Right, woman in hospital gown and cap
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus and ajr_images/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

My friend of over 20 years told me, just days ago, that she has breast cancer and has known for six months! She has been through diagnosis, treatment plan, a second opinion, hormone therapy, chemo, and basically a mastectomy. Her outlook is great, and she is now waiting to heal for a month of radiation and then reconstruction. She didn’t tell me because she “needed our friendship to be normal” and “only told a few people.” I feel so stupid and betrayed. I was a pallbearer at her sister’s funeral, for cripes sake! I know this should be about her and her health and healing, but I don’t even want to talk to her. I’m so angry.

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—Need to Get Over Myself

Dear Need to Get Over,

I’m glad your friend is OK. And I can imagine how disorienting it must have been to learn about what she’s been dealing with in secret.

But let’s do a thought exercise: Imagine if, six months ago, she’d shared the awful news of the diagnosis with you. How would you have felt? I’m guessing you would have been heartbroken for her and made it a priority to make the process as easy as possible.

What would you have told her? I bet you would have assured her that whatever she was feeling was OK, and that there was no wrong way to deal with this kind of diagnosis.

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What would you have wanted? I’m thinking your biggest wish would have been that she would make a full recovery and come out of the process emotionally intact.

Well, we’re there. The situation she’s in now is the best outcome you or any other loved one could have hoped for. She had the experience she wanted, the treatment worked, and it sounds like she has a good prognosis. That’s something to celebrate.

Maybe there’s a conversation to be had about why you didn’t make the list of the few people who were in the loop. When you feel less angry, ask her, and be ready to receive some feedback on how you tend to handle things. You might learn that you can come off as a little overbearing or melodramatic. Or maybe—and I have to admit, the way you’ve written your letter makes me think this might be the case—you have a tendency to make other people’s issues about you. Either way, I hope you don’t stop talking to her. It would be a tragedy if you destroy your friendship over the way she handled her diagnosis.

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Dear Prudence,

I was married to my husband for almost 15 years. We had three kids and divorced when they were in middle school. It took us a long time, but we are finally friends—actually more like family. We’ve both had long-term relationships in the intervening 10 years, but recently we seem to be gravitating more toward each other. We took a holiday with the kids recently, and afterward my mother asked if we might be getting back together. I can’t stop thinking about it. I think we might be able to make it work this time around. Many of the circumstances that lead to the initial breakup are no longer factors. How do I ask him if he is open to trying again? I don’t want to make him feel bad or embarrass myself if he says no.

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—Tired of Being So Nice

Dear Tired,

One thing to think about is that (as you know) marriage can come with a lot of expectations and intensity. So you might be getting along better now than you did when you were married simply because things are just lighter overall. It’s much easier to be vacation partners than it is to be spouses. Maybe what you have at this moment is the best possible version of your relationship, and it doesn’t need to change.

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But if you really feel strongly that you have what it takes to try again, here’s the script:

You: I want to talk to you about something, but I don’t want you to feel any pressure, and I’m totally OK with whatever your response is. I’m worried about making things awkward, so can we agree that if your answer is no, we never have to discuss it again.

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Ex-husband: Uh, you’re being weird, but OK.

You: Seriously. If the answer is no, we’ll pretend this conversation never happened.

Ex-husband: What conversation? I’ve already erased it from my memory.

You: Now you’ve got it. Here it goes: I’ve been thinking a lot about us getting back together. Would you be open to that at all?

If he’s on board, you should go over your thinking about the circumstances that led to the breakup and how things have changed. Talk a little about how great your recent interactions have been and how you see your new dynamic working in a marriage. Since you say it took you a long time to become friends, I’m guessing there were some seriously hurt feelings. Own up to your part of whatever led to the end of the relationship and explain what you’ve learned and how you’ll do things differently this time. If there are things you’d still want him to work on if you were to rekindle your relationship, now is the time to see if he’s willing.

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He might say no, but you’ll be glad you asked. I would love an update when there is one.

Dear Prudence,

I am a male coach to four women on a sports team. I have been in a 14-year relationship with one of the women. All four women have been totally dedicated to preparing for an event that was important to them under my guidance. Recently, my partner started withdrawing from me and then three weeks ago moved out of our home to her sister’s home. But within a few days she began an intimate relationship with a man in another close-by city. We had both met this person out exercising on a couple of occasions. I’m having trouble managing my feelings. Importantly, her teammates know the situation. How do I handle the team situation given that my partner wants to continue?

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—Hurt and Angry

Dear Hurt and Angry,

If the event is really soon, maybe you can push through and get the team prepared for it. But if it’s longer than, say, a month away, politely and professionally step down, citing a change in your schedule, or a desire to spend more time with family, or any of the other excuses people give when we all know there’s a lot more going on.

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It is stressful to interact with someone who’s broken your heart, and you don’t have to do it. Plus, it’s not as if these are children who are relying on your presence and mentorship. They’re adults and, with a bit of notice, I’m certain they can find another coach.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Pay Dirt

My father-in-law recently fell into a fundraising thing where he sends money to a person in Pakistan so they can get people out of indentured servitude. This began right after he retired. This whole thing has sent off alarm bells for my husband and his sister. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think this thing might be legit, but the manner and speed in which it is unfolding is just odd. He is so obsessed with this that it’s all he talks about. He tells us about it over and over, like it’s the first time we are hearing of it. His passion is wild. He says things like, “We saved 150 people this weekend! Can you believe it only costs $140 to free someone?” He has used some of his own money and money that friends have donated to fund this.

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The thing is that he has gotten my kids to want to shell out their own money to save other kids from indentured servitude. He found this person he is contact with in Pakistan on the internet. The man calls him at least three times a day to give updates. They FaceTime, and he gets photos of the ex-servants. My husband has just kind of shrugged his shoulders at this kind of stuff, but I don’t like seeing my kids get involved in the weirdness of it all. Should I just let my kids donate some money? They are very moved by this whole thing.

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