Dear Patricia Marie,

My dear friend found out a few months ago that she has cancer. In a few short months she has changed from a vibrant, feisty woman into a quiet, constantly complaining one.

When I visit her she spends the whole time telling me how hard her life now is, and how unfair it is that she has cancer. She nags her husband and barks out orders to him. She shows no interest in what is happening in my life at all. I try to entertain her with stories or offer to play cards with her, or take her out, but she does not want this.

I don't know what to do. I feel I have to push myself to visit her, and that makes me feel very sad as we used to be so very close, in saying this, I still very much want to be there for her.

Patricia Marie says...

When the threat of severe illness affects a loved one, it isn't always easy for family or friends to know how to deal with the situation. It is perfectly understandable that you are finding it hard to talk to your friend about her feelings and concerns, but if you can allow her to speak about what's making her angry, expressing her feelings may help her to feel better understood. It could be she is feeling anxious and hopeless, causing her to be irritable. She could resent you speaking about a way of life she may no longer have. For now, let your friend lead the conversation, and in time hopefully she will be better able to share your news.

A cancer diagnosis can cause doubts and uncertainty, and the future could seem suddenly dark and unpredictable, which can be very frightening and may cause your friend to feel she has lost control of her life. Empower her. Encourage her to decide what she thinks would make her situation more bearable. Perhaps you could both work together on accomplishing even the smallest realistic goals that could have a huge positive impact on the way she feels. It is also important for you to receive some help at this time. Do call the Macmillan Support Line, as their dedicated team are there to advise on ways to care for those suffering from cancer. Their knowledge and experience will give you a greater understanding of this brutal disease, and enable you to be more empathic of your friend's emotions.

You may have to accept that your friend is unable to be as she was, but the most valuable thing you can do for her now is simply be there for her and no matter how low her mood, continue to be the devoted friend you clearly are. Do remember, caring for someone with cancer is a strain, but it can be intensely rewarding and make one feel proud of finding the strength, courage and kindness to help a sufferer going through possibly the toughest battle of their life. Through your compassion you will experience the true value of what's important in life - both love and life itself.