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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My sister and I have always been close. My niece was popular, blond, petite and a high school cheerleader who dated the quarterback. My daughter, "Amber," was studious, wore thick glasses and no makeup, but was happy and well-liked. We accepted and celebrated their differences.

My niece stayed in town, working part-time in an office and taking a few classes at junior college while waiting until her boyfriend finished college, became a professional athlete and they rode off into the sunset. As fate would have it, he returned home -- with a new cheerleader.

Amber went off to an Ivy League school on a scholarship. When she returned home 10 pounds lighter, with long, highlighted hair and contact lenses, we didn't recognize her. She's a knockout!

My sister and my niece have now cooled toward us and make cutting remarks about Amber. They have started acting strangely, bad-mouthing the ex-boyfriend and his family, even at church functions. I want to talk to my sister, but I'm at a loss on how to start or what to say. Any ideas? -- LOST IN LONG BEACH

DEAR LOST: You are describing two very unhappy women, for whom things haven't turned out as planned. Your daughter, the "ugly duckling," has transitioned into a swan. Congratulations! She is now considered to be "competition." Now please try to be gracious. Pick up the phone and call your sister. Tell her you're concerned about her because she seems to have become "withdrawn" lately -- and see if you can draw her out. It appears she and her daughter are going through a bad time right now.

DEAR ABBY: I was visiting my father when he got the phone call from his doctor with the results of his biopsy. It was lung cancer. I tried my best not to cry, but I couldn't help myself and my father comforted me.

I want to be strong and "there" for him, but my heart is breaking because I can't think of anything to make this better for him. I can't bear the thought of losing him. I lost my mom five years ago, and Dad helped me through that. When my father is gone, I will have no one.

I feel guilty that I'm more concerned about my feelings when I should be concentrating on helping Dad feel better. I hate that my emotions are so close to the surface. I worry most of the time anyway, and this has thrown me for a loop. Have you any advice on how I can pull it together and be supportive of my father? -- DEVASTATED IN OKLAHOMA

DEAR DEVASTATED: Yes, I do. Cancer is a scary word, but it is important to remember that, in many cases, it is not the death sentence that it was even 10 years ago. In other words, your father may go into remission or even recover completely. So please stop panicking that you may lose him, because he needs you right now.

If you can, accompany him to doctor's appointments. You can take notes and help him evaluate and understand his treatment options -- because when people are stressed they sometimes tend to forget what they have been told or what questions they wanted to ask.

Contact the American Cancer Society about online and local support groups that offer up-to-date information regarding therapies and clinical studies, as well as places to find the emotional support you are looking for. Help is there if you just reach out. The toll-free number is (800) 227-2345 and its website is � HYPERLINK "" ���.

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