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Carolyn Hax: Friend of 20 years assailed for spreading bad news

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 - 12:00 am

DEAR CAROLYN: Recently I was diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage (but will still require surgery and other treatment). I have told only a few people. One was a friend of over 20 years, who then told an acquaintance, someone I never would have told.

There is so little I can control about this process but this is the one thing I should be able to control, especially given that I am a very private person.

I was very angry that my alleged friend told someone else. No, I didn’t tell her not to share, but no one should need to be told that, should they?! I do not believe her telling was malicious, but still … why would she think she had the right?! She said she just didn’t think about it.

When I told her that after 20 years of being friends, she should know how private I am, she said she didn’t realize. In some ways that is even more hurtful. How can you be friends that long and not know that most essential part of me?

I am feeling confused about whether I should try to make amends, wait for her to take the next step (she has already apologized) or leave it. I have so much to deal with right now it is hard to know what to do.

– L.

DEAR L.: That’s understandable – with everything you have to think about, you want to take friendships for granted a bit, not add them to the fret list.

At the same time, it’s also common for people with big problems to dwell disproportionately on smaller ones. Stress rarely respects its assigned place, and your mind might prefer to pin much of your stress on an indiscreet friend, because that’s something it thinks it can manage.

Either way, you’ll want to put this incident to rest, and when in doubt I suggest turnabout: Shouldn’t you, after 20 years, also know your friend well enough to recognize that she doesn’t share your sense of privacy?

I offer this not to shift any blame to you; if anyone’s to blame here, it’s your friend for overstepping, though I think friendship and decency are best served by not assigning any blame here at all. Instead I advise recognition: that you and your friend are very different on this count; that you both lost sight of this, despite your long history; and that friends can overcome such a difference as long as there’s respect – even if it comes after the fact in the form of a sincere apology.

I think a more general realization is in order, too: You can control how you share your information, but you cannot control it once shared. To believe otherwise is to have a false sense of security. Those are always shocks just waiting to happen.

Good luck with your treatments – I hope they’re effective and quick.

Email Carolyn at tellme@wash or follow her on Facebook at

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