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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 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

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, 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 St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

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