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.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I work from home, which is good -- for the most part. I have flexible hours, and I am pretty efficient. But lately, I have been feeling down and disconnected from other people. I don't go out much anymore. Now that it's cold, I often pass on invitations to go to events in the city or to meet up with friends. My world is narrowing, which isn't good, but I also can't seem to shake it. I make plans to go out, but then cancel. I order in food, and I even have my laundry picked up and delivered. How can I break out of this pattern? I don't feel happy or motivated at all. -- Self-Exiled
DEAR SELF-EXILED: You may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, which is a real condition, a form of depression that affects many people as the seasons change. In the fall and winter, those suffering from this disorder often feel helpless and isolated. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms include: feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day; losing interest in activities you once enjoyed; having low energy; experiencing changes in your appetite or weight; feeling sluggish or agitated; having difficulty concentrating; feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty; or having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms in a consistent way, it is time to go to the doctor to get help. If your symptoms are mild, doctors say that light therapy can be helpful. Literally going outside when the sun is shining can brighten your spirits. Psychotherapy can also support you during this difficult time.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My high schooler went to a party this weekend with friends from school. Afterwards, I learned that a number of the kids were vaping e-cigarettes. I have seen ads for e-cigarettes, and I know that they are highly addictive. When I talked to my daughter about it, she blew me off and said that none of her friends are addicted and "it's no big deal."
Trying to keep my cool, I kept talking to my daughter. I want her to feel that she can talk to me about anything. I asked if she had ever tried vaping. She admitted that she had. I wish I could punish her in some way to get her to never do it again, but I know that won't work at this point. What can I do to protect her from possibly getting addicted to nicotine -- or anything else, for that matter? -- No Juul
DEAR NO JUUL: Part of the reason that the Food and Drug Administration, many parents and activists have protested against e-cigarettes is because they are addictive. In my research, I learned that one Juul e-cigarette has as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. What makes cigarettes addictive IS nicotine.
How can you relate the severity of e-cigarette use to your daughter? Tell her stories -- as many as you know. Make sure they're true stories. If you ever tried smoking cigarettes, tell her what happened. Talk to her about drug use and what the effects can be on her life. Go through the list of drugs and substances that teens use these days. Definitely talk to her about opioids, too, as they are highly addictive. Expose her to what's happening today and how dangerous peer pressure is. Give her examples whenever you can of how detrimental e-cigarettes and other substances can be to her future. Showing her rather than reprimanding her is the best way to open her eyes.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been on my job for less than a year. Recently, I was asked to apply for a position that came open. It stretches my abilities, but I was up for it. I have been doing OK for the most part, and I have received a lot of encouragement. There's one woman, though, who is constantly belittling me. She seems to go out of her way to find negative things to say about my job performance. She is never encouraging, and it's upsetting. Another one of the leaders in the company who is very supportive of me suggested that I speak to this woman and tell her to quit bullying me. I'm nervous to say anything. I would rather just not stay in this job than to have her always going out of her way to poke at me. What should I do? -- Anti-Bullying
DEAR ANTI-BULLYING: The tricky thing about walking away from certain conflicts without addressing them is that they often follow you. The business leader who told you to stand up for yourself was right. The next time your bully addresses you inappropriately, ask her directly what the problem is. Ask her why she is talking to you in that way. Tell her you want to figure out how to work with her effectively, but when she constantly berates you, it makes it difficult for you to work well.
You can also say the words directly: "Stop bullying me." You have to say it like you mean it. If she persists, go to HR. Do your best to speak up for yourself and sort it out directly first, though.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Last year, I had a series of medical tests that led to more and more tests. I was diagnosed with a couple of health issues that I need to deal with, but honestly, I can't afford to go to all of the doctors' appointments, let alone pay for all of the medications. And I have insurance! I work, too, but I can't keep up with all of the things needed to stay healthy. I feel like I am going to go broke trying to stay alive. I don't know what to do. -- Can't Afford Health Care
DEAR CAN'T AFFORD HEALTH CARE: I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. Sadly, you are not alone. A lot of Americans are facing the same reality -- they cannot afford the care they need to stay healthy, at least not at face value.
While I do not have any magic tricks to offer to you, I can tell you that some teaching hospitals offer free or low-cost health care for patients who are willing to allow students to learn from them. This has been true for schools of dentistry, surgery, mental health and more. Look around your city to see what teaching hospitals are there, and inquire as to whether they will accept you.
Beyond that, negotiate a payment plan with all of your medical creditors. Be proactive, and let them know your situation. Ask for mercy. Usually, this will help you to create a bridge that allows you to meet your goals.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I started working for my local newspaper, and I am totally psyched about it. I live in a small town, and most of the people know each other. My job is to be like a gossip columnist in a way, reporting on the people and things that are going on. Anyway, my editor asked me to write a story about a family that got into trouble recently. One of the family members got arrested, so it is real news. I feel awful for this family, and I don't want to make it harder for them. I have known these people for years. I also don't want to lose my job. How can I handle this situation? -- Sensitive or Professional?
DEAR SENSITIVE OR PROFESSIONAL?: If you want to keep your job, you will have to write something about what has happened, but who says you can't do so with compassion? Given that one family member got arrested, that news is public knowledge. Dig a little deeper. Can you discover any information that might shed light on why the alleged crime happened? Consider talking to friends of theirs to gain insight into who they are and how they are dealing with this crisis. Write an honest, fair and balanced article, but feel comfortable being thoughtful. If your whole town is in shock or mourning or there is another type of predominant emotion among neighbors, share that, too. You can create a complete story without being scathing.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My son wants to become a police officer, and I am worried. I know that it is a so-called good, stable job with benefits. But I worry that he will end up being killed in the line of duty. Plus, these days the community doesn't trust cops the way they did when I was growing up. I know I can't make this decision for him, but I really wish he would go for something else. How can I get him to consider another path? -- Say No to Cop
DEAR SAY NO TO COP: You should not try to dash your son's dreams. Yes, being a police officer comes with certain potential dangers, but he knows that already. We need strong, honest community members to go into law enforcement. Perhaps your son can help to bring back that spirit of community that you appreciated when you were growing up.
Rather than stomping on his dreams, you can express your concerns but give your son your blessing for him to find out if this is the right career for him.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a neighbor who complains about her daughter all the time. Her daughter is an adult who started her life off great. She is smart and was driven to make something of her life, but then she got caught up with a ne'er-do-well guy, and everything went downhill from there. They started smoking crack, and the next thing you know, this young woman with so much potential has taken a nosedive. She can't keep a job. She has stolen from the family home and destroyed property in the house. The police have come to their apartment several times, causing disruption and fear in many of the neighbors -- especially those who have children.
Some days this young woman seems perfectly normal. You would never know she has a problem, but her mother assures me that she is still addicted to crack. As a neighbor, I'm not sure what to do. On occasion this young woman has asked me to buzz her into the building or to use my phone. I have known her for most of her life, but I don't want to become a pawn in this. I also don't want to let her into my house. How can I establish boundaries? -- Neighbor of an Addict
DEAR NEIGHBOR OF AN ADDICT: Start with the mom. Ask her how she recommends you interact with her daughter. Ask if she thinks you should let her in the building or engage her in any way. If she recommends no engagement, you may have to keep your head low when you see the young woman and not comply with her requests. If you have to go that route, you could also apologize and say you're sorry, but you can't help out anymore.
Given that the mother has told you that the daughter has vandalized her own home, you should not let her into your home. As awkward as it may seem, even if you let her use your phone, do so outside your door. Mostly, you need to stay out of this. Until this woman is successfully treated for drug addiction, her behavior will likely be unpredictable.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am cleaning out my closets and trying to make more space in my house. I have accumulated so much over time, including some pretty great clothing. I could give it all to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but I also like the idea of getting something back for my clothes. I know that some people use websites to offload old stuff. What do you recommend? Part of me is concerned that if I go the route of selling at a discount online, it will just keep the stuff in my house for a lot longer. -- Purging
DEAR PURGING: If you can give yourself a deadline and stick to it, you can potentially earn money selling your old clothing -- and other household goods. Acting like the yard sales of my youth, there are now many websites that allow you to post your gently used items that you feature with photos and discounted pricing. Some popular options are eBay.com, Tradesy.com, MaterialWorld.co, Etsy.com, Poshmark.com, ThredUp.com, Bonanza.com and Shopify.com.
I will add that if your home is bordering on hoarding status, you may want to dump the items on your sidewalk on trash pickup day, call a company like 1-800-GOT-JUNK or take your items to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. If you do that, you can get tax write-off slips that will allow you a bit of relief at tax time.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A friend of mine let me know that my boyfriend from a few years back is homeless and living in a shelter. He lost his job a couple of years ago, one thing led to the next, and he lost his apartment. I feel awful for him. He is a really nice guy with a big heart. I can't imagine what it's like for him. My friend told me that he still has the same cellphone number. She encouraged me to call and check in on him. I'm not sure if I should. I do like him, but I don't have any money to give him, and I'm in a relationship. Do you think it will be misleading to reconnect with him? -- Homeless Ex
DEAR HOMELESS EX: If you care about your ex -- as a person -- definitely give him a call. Tell him that you learned about his misfortune and you wanted to offer moral support. Ask him how he's doing and what his plans are. Tell him that you are sorry that he has fallen on hard times, but you know he is a good person and you pray that he will be able to be in a better place soon.
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Be upfront and let him know that you are reaching out to him as a friend only. Tell him that you are in a relationship now. If you are up for it, allow him to contact you from time to time as he manages through this difficult period.
DEAR HARRIETTE: We are having several events to celebrate Black History Month at my job. That's all OK, I guess, but I don't really want to participate. This is not because I am racist. I don't participate in any of the other heritage events during the year, so I'm not discriminating. But these Black History Month events are much higher profile. I feel like I am going to be judged for not attending and possibly even called racist. How can I handle this and maintain a good reputation at work? -- No Celebrating
DEAR NO CELEBRATING: A critical part of being a team player in a work community is participating in the big events -- and often the smaller ones -- that are produced for the staff. The higher-profile events do bring more scrutiny in terms of who attends. Sure, you could tell anyone who asks that you don't attend any such events. But I recommend that you adopt a more inclusive strategy. Think about the bigger picture.
You can go to events during Black History Month as well as the various other causes and engagements for a few minutes. Pay your respects and go on with the rest of your day. Those few minutes of socializing, preferably at the beginning of the event when the stakeholders are in the room, will be a far more efficient use of your time than explaining away others' judgment of your absence.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I get the newspaper delivered to my home every weekend. It has always been a bit problematic because I live in an apartment building, and rather than the delivery person bringing it to my door, he leaves all of the papers at the entrance of the building. I would say that about once a month, somebody takes my paper. I go downstairs on a Saturday or a Sunday to get the paper, and there isn't one. I have been tempted to take somebody else's paper, but that's not right. I can't figure out who is stealing the paper, or if sometimes it isn't delivered. When I ask the delivery person to drop it at my door, he says he can't. What recourse do I have? -- Missing Paper
DEAR MISSING PAPER: This is quite a predicament in that you cannot control the movement or safe arrival of your paper. Contact the newspaper every time yours is missing and ask for a refund. If you do that insistently and regularly enough -- with the success of receiving a refund -- they may change their delivery policy.
Otherwise, you may have to accept that you will lose a few papers or decide to receive the whole thing online. I know the latter is difficult if you are like me and you like to hold the paper in your hands.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have gone to the same lawyer for more than 10 years. Today, I find myself in a predicament where I need a specialist to help me with a problem that is beyond my lawyer's expertise, but I feel like it's almost like breaking up with a hairdresser. I asked my lawyer for a referral for a specialist, and he got offended and told me he could handle it. When I pressed him on the importance of finding an expert, he said he would find someone but charge me a fee for the referral. I don't understand that. I have sent people to him over the years and never asked for a cut. Why should I give him a cut of something he cannot handle? -- Lawyer Trouble
DEAR LAWYER TROUBLE: It is true that a long-term relationship with an attorney can feel personal and intimate and, therefore, difficult to leave, even if only for a particular project. You should say as much to your attorney. Let him know how hard it was for you to come to the realization that you needed someone else for the legal challenge that you are facing.
In terms of paying a fee, that depends on how much work your lawyer did to identify this specialist for you. While some attorneys make referrals gratis, others do charge a fee if they vet the new lawyer, introduce him or her and oversee at least the early process to ensure that you are properly cared for. Evaluate what your attorney is doing for you before you complain. If you think he deserves something, negotiate with him on that amount. If not, find another attorney who is completely independent of your guy.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A lot of my friends have decided to give blood, and they want to do it together as a sign of solidarity. This was precipitated by a request that was sent out by the American Red Cross. My friends, who are all college students or in the first years of work, say they could use the extra cash they will get. Plus, they will be doing good.
I looked into it, and I don't think the Red Cross pays for blood. I read that some companies do, but that's not even my issue. A few years ago, I was infected with hepatitis C. My health is under control now, but I'm sure my blood will be rejected. My friends don't know my status, and I don't really want to tell them. I also do not want to join them for their trip to the blood bank. What can I say to them? -- No Blood
DEAR NO BLOOD: Encourage your friends to give blood, as it is true that there is almost always a need for clean blood to be available for injured or ill people. At the same time, tell them that you will not be joining them. You can say that you learned years ago that it doesn't work for you to give. You can say you tried before and were rejected. You can stop talking about it after that. There is no need for you to share your health status.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I just learned that my godson is gay, and it sounds like he is struggling with his sexual identity. His mom says he is drinking heavily and trying to act "straight" when he's drunk. He is having a tough time.
He has not told me, and we are not particularly close, but I have talked to other young adults about sexual identity over the years, and I think I might be of help. How can I approach him without seeming like a busybody? -- Coming Out
DEAR COMING OUT: Do not approach your godson. Since his mom is the person who told you what he's facing, talk to her about your idea. Describe to her some of the conversations you have had with other young people surrounding sexual identity. Ask her if she thinks it might be helpful for you to reach out to her son. Additionally, ask if she would like to have a sense from you of what your discussions have been. If she is open, you may want to share some ideas and insights with her to use at her discretion.
She may, on the other hand, think this is a perfect time for her son's godparent to step up, step in and be of support. Just know it is not up to you. This is a sensitive topic for their family. Be mindful not to be too pushy. Just offer your support, and see what his mom agrees to allow.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I know a woman who sells beauty products through a multilevel marketing company. She is aggressive with her pitching, and recently she focused in on me. I must get three calls or emails a week from her, all pushing me to come to a meeting and sample her products and consider becoming a salesperson. I like this woman, but I am not interested in buying or selling beauty products. I have limited time and resources, and I have already committed to what I spend my free time doing.
I get that she is trying to build her business, but I do not want to get sucked in. This woman won't take no for an answer. Honestly, she is a bit stalkerish. How can I get her to stop? -- Don't Market to Me
DEAR DON'T MARKET TO ME: The woman in question is doing her job -- being a salesperson. Her pushiness is probably something she learned from her multilevel marketing company's training. What you have described is not unique. It is standard practice for some salespeople.
You do not have to succumb to her pushiness. Stop answering this woman's calls and emails. Stop engaging her. If you don't begin a conversation, you can't have one. If you have already told her you are not interested, let that be the end of it. One of the most powerful things I have heard women leaders say is, "'No' is a complete sentence." You can say and mean no by ending the discussion there.
A problem that many of us face is that we feel guilty for not allowing our compassionate side to lead with salespeople. But you must begin and end with no when no is what you mean.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been going out with a really nice guy for about a year. He spends the night at my house occasionally. I like that part, but what I hate is that his feet stink. When he takes off his shoes, the room fills with the smell of dirty socks. It's gross. I now light candles when I think he's going to come over, but that feels like a ridiculous mask for the funk. I need to tell him. What should I say? -- Stinky Feet
DEAR STINKY FEET: I may run the risk of sounding sexist here, but I am going to tell you something that I learned early on that seems to be true for many men before they get into long-term relationships. In the spirit of being well-balanced, I will add that perhaps it is true for single women, too. I don't know.
Here it is: Many men have to be taught to be more sensitive to grooming and hygiene at the beginning of relationships. If they live alone or with other guys as roommates, they might not wash their clothes regularly, or they wear socks multiple times before washing. Generally, bachelors may not be as fastidious as men in relationships.
Enter a partner. This is you. If you want your guy to pay closer attention to his dirty socks, tell him. Be kind and use humor. Let him know that his socks are more fragrant than the dinner on the table or whatever else has an obvious aroma. Ask him when he last washed those socks. You don't necessarily have to offer to wash them, but you may need to point him in the direction of more careful grooming. Let him know you want him to be clean for you. If you suggest it in an enticing way rather than a judgmental one, the smell may go away!
DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend speaks Spanish and English. His family is from Mexico, and his parents speak Spanish only. Whenever we are together with his family, he serves as translator. I know virtually no Spanish, and they about as much English. I feel terrible about this. I want to be able to communicate with them directly. We smile a lot and certain messages get across, but no real language is happening. I feel like I should take a Spanish class, but I doubt it would teach me everyday Spanish. Plus, I don't know if we are going to stay together. Is it worth it to invest in learning another language? -- Learning Spanish
DEAR LEARNING SPANISH: Spanish is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, so it will not be a waste for you to learn it. It certainly will endear you to his family for trying.
You are right that a basic Spanish class will teach you grammatically correct speech versus the vernacular, but it is a start. You can ask your boyfriend to help you with sayings that are particular to his family and community. This can be a lot of fun for the two of you and will surely make him feel happy that you care that much.
You can also take a course or search online for support. One site you may want to visit is Fluentu.com, which has sections dedicated to slang.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Now that the weather is so cold, I am worried about my mom, who is old and lives by herself. The other day, when it was well below freezing, she told me that her heat wasn't working well. I have invited her to stay with me for a few weeks -- until the cold blows over, just to be safe -- but she says she wants to stay home. I am not asking her to move in with me permanently. I know she values her independence, but I don't feel like I can care for her properly when we are not in the same house during this period. I have a husband and young children to make sure I get to school, so I cannot move in with her. What should I do? -- Mom in Need
DEAR MOM IN NEED: You are experiencing that moment in a parent-child relationship when roles reverse, and it can be extremely challenging and emotional. Your responsibility now is to require your mother to do something for her health that she doesn't prefer. You should bring her to your home during this cold spell. Let her know that you must do this for her, even if she doesn't like it.
Remind her of your childhood, when she made you wear thermals or extra layers during the winter. What about times when she wouldn't let you go outside and play with your friends for fear of frostbite? Bring up whatever else you remember that will illustrate for her some decision she made when you were a child and needed her guidance. Tell her that it is your turn now to care for her, and you will not allow her stubbornness to lead to her freezing in her own home. She has to come with you -- short-term -- until the weather breaks. Then, pack her bag and go.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106