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DEAR ABBY: I am a female who is almost 38 years old. Most of my adult life has been spent in school, working or traveling. It is only in the last two years that I have met someone and settled down somewhat -- although we are not married. We are both artists, so much of our time is filled doing the things that we love and believe in. Neither of us feels a giant void in our relationship or our lives that needs to be filled by a baby.

In the past year or so, several of my co-workers and other people I barely know keep asking, "When are you going to have a baby?" or, "You only have a couple more years -- aren't you going to have a baby?" or, "Don't you want kids?"

Abby, my family doesn't even ask me these questions! I think they are extremely rude and intrusive, and I resent the simple-minded assumption that just because a person has a uterus and ovaries she must make a baby. How should I respond to these questions? -- CHILDLESS AND HAPPY IN TEXAS

DEAR CHILDLESS AND HAPPY: There are several ways to handle questions that are nobody's business. One is to deflect the question by asking another: "Why do you ask?" Or, "Why do you think that's any of your business?" Alternatively, if you really want the person to back down, you can reply, "If it were any of your business, you'd already know the answer to that question. Please don't ask me again!"

DEAR ABBY: My mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer that spread to her liver. Over the last five years, she has put up a brave fight, smiling through her surgeries, years of chemo and constant pain. The doctors now say there's nothing more they can do. Basically, Mom is at home waiting to die.

I recently moved back with my parents so I can help Dad with Mother's care. I'm glad I can take time off and spend quality time with them. I am 23 and love them both.

My concern is, my father rarely speaks about Mother's illness. We joke about it, mostly to avoid a sad, uncomfortable situation. I'm dealing with this like my dad does. I rarely talk about it, and when I do, I make a joke. I have tried discussing how I feel with friends, but most of the time they stop me because it's hard for them to hear. I have also tried talking about things with Dad, but I don't want to make him sad. I start to lose it every time he tears up, so now I avoid the subject.

I don't know who to talk to. Sometimes I feel it's pointless to try because talking won't change the situation. But my feelings are becoming overwhelming, and I need to let them out. Can you help me? -- OVERWHELMED IN ARIZONA

DEAR OVERWHELMED: I'm sorry your mother isn't doing well. However, I'm sure your presence is a great comfort to both of your parents.

It is very important that both you and your father find an outlet where it's safe to talk about your feelings because they are normal. Although it may be painful, and probably tearful, tears can be healing. The American Cancer Society has programs for people with cancer and their families, including excellent support groups. You do not have to go through this difficult time alone, so please don't wait to make contact. Find a program in your area by visiting and typing in your ZIP code. (Or you can call: 1-800-ACS-2345.) There is also an online community where people can chat anytime they feel the need 24/7. Although it's a cancer survivors' network, families are welcome, too. You're in my prayers.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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