Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Friend Wants To Celebrate Woman’s Remission

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend who had breast cancer several years ago. She seems to be in the safe zone, so to speak, in that six years have gone by. She told me that if you pass five years without a relapse, you are considered to be cancer-free. I started thinking that maybe this is something I should celebrate with her. Just as I was going to suggest doing something special in honor of her good health, she told me that another friend of hers just died from complications of some kind of cancer that came back after several years.

My friend is so sad and I want to support her, but I don’t think a celebration is in order at this time. What can I do to cheer her up and let her know how grateful I am that she is alive? I don’t want to be insensitive. I just want to show her that she is greatly loved. -- Cancer Be Gone

DEAR CANCER BE GONE: You do not have to create a special occasion to spend time with your friend and show her your love. Now that her good friend has died, she will likely appreciate your support and attention. Invite her to do something upbeat that she enjoys that will allow you two to have fun and talk to each other. Let her guide the conversation about her health and her friend. Do your best to be a good listener, and refrain from being an inquisitor.

When people lose loved ones, they often think about their own mortality. This is especially true for cancer survivors. Your best way of showing your love is to listen and follow your friend’s cues. She will let you know what she wants to discuss.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have had several medical challenges this year that have taken me to the hospital. Nothing was earth-shattering, but I now have a pile of bills from the hospital and from various doctors. I can’t afford to pay all of these bills, and I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed. I used to be afraid of bill collectors for my credit card. Now it’s medical bill collectors. What can I do to manage this? I have been avoiding them, but obviously that’s a bad idea. -- Medical Debt

DEAR MEDICAL DEBT: Just as with credit card debt, when you have mounting medical debt, you need to speak directly to your creditors. Let them know that you don’t mean to shirk your responsibility to pay your bills, but you do not have the means to pay in full at this time. Ask to establish a payment plan so that you can pay down your debt and prove that you are being responsible as you are being realistic about what you can handle financially.

Stay clear and focused when you speak to the bill collectors. Remember that their job is to recover as much money as they can. Generally, they will be willing to work with you as long as you show sincere commitment to pay the money you owe. You may also be able to negotiate a bit if you can prove financial hardship.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)