Okay how do I say this? Hmm, sorry but I don't want to have any confusion here. So I am just going to quote (obviously, with details slightly changed) of an uncomfortable situation that my best friend put me into.
This is what she said to me:
"The doctors told me that they think it might be brain cancer, just like I thought. The melanoma in my back has spread to my brain. They are all of a sudden in this huge panic and doing scans and tests all over the place. But they won't know the results for a few weeks, maybe even a month or more. I told the managers at work, because I have used up all of my sick leave and annual leave and I am off on leave without pay, and I have to tell them in order to keep my job open. But they have refused to tell anyone at work about it. You know that I already told them a fair bit about it, but I know that they worry. I just want them to be reassured. At least so that they know that I am not going to lose my job, and that managers said that if I do have brain cancer and it does get bad, they will just give me alternative duties. And so that they know that financially I am okay, because my income protection insurance has kicked in. I am not homeless or lying in a gutter. Just tell them so they don't worry. You will do it for me, won't you?"
This was really uncomfortable for me and I didn't know what to do. So I thought to ask for advice, so I asked her mother, who I am also quite good friends with.
This is what I said to her mother:
"Your daughter told me that the doctors now think she might have brain cancer too. She wants me to tell people at work about it. What do you think about it? I don't think she has brain cancer at all - it is all because her boyfriend died and she is sad and stressed. What do you think I should do? What do you think about it?"
I thought that her mother knew. After all, pretty much everyone else knew. But, alas, she did not. And I wasn't meant to tell her at all. Oops!
This is what her mother told me:
"She has brain cancer? This is the first I've heard of this. Are you sure? Why hadn't she told me?"
I was a bit perplexed about this and wondering why she hadn't told her own mother, when she was telling everyone at work. I tried my best, and said this:
"Oh sorry. Didn't you know? Oh dear. Sorry. Look, it isn't confirmed or anything, she just thinks she has it. They are doing scans. But look, sorry, I didn't mean to tell you. I thought you already knew. I was just asking you for tips because she wants me to tell people at work."
I thought that it was okay, though, based on what she said next:
"If she told you to tell people, then tell people. But I just don't understand why she hadn't told me herself."
As it turned out, the reason she hadn't told her mother was because her mother doesn't listen properly and over-reacts. Unknown to me, her mother had thought that I had told her that her daughter had brain cancer, for sure, definitely, while what I had actually said was that her daughter thought she had it, but I didn't think she had. She had selective hearing, and just feared the worst. I really wasn't supposed to tell her. But I thought she already knew. Oops. And, worse than that, I didn't know that her mother was upset about it at the time. I thought she was okay with it. She seemed to be okay. But she was just busy stewing.
So, since her mother hadn't given me any useful advice, and I was still nervous about it, I thought to ask a mutual friend who I knew for sure already knew about the whole situation, someone who also works with me. This is the conversation:
Me: "Our mutual friend told me that she thinks she has brain cancer. She thinks that the melanoma has spread to her brain."
Her: "Yeah she told me that too. And most of the office."
Me: "Yeah but now she is telling me that doctors are agreeing with her. And she is doing scans to prove it one way or the other."
Her: "Really? Well, I guess it is possible, as it does happen, but it is pretty unlikely. Still, if that is what doctors say then I guess it is possible. Perhaps her sadness has caused it. Sadness and stress does lead to real medical conditions, you know."
Me: "Yeah I know. But it could just be paranoia. She is also really depressed and thinks the worst about absolutely everything."
Her: "What does she want you to do?"
Me: "She wants me to tell everyone at work, so that they don't worry. She wants me to tell everyone that she thinks she might have brain cancer. I just don't feel comfortable doing that."
Her: "You don't know that she has brain cancer, and even if you did, it is not your place to say it. She will be happy if you just tell people not to worry, and tell them that she is having scans, that her job is secure and all of that."
Me: "Yeah she told me that managers said that her job was secure, so long as she kept giving them updates."
Her: "That's great. So tell them that."
Me: "But shouldn't management?"
Her: "You know management. They don't tell anyone anything. And they are probably worried that they might say it wrong too."
Me: "She also told me that she had financial security from income protection insurance and she wanted people to know she was okay with that too."
Her: "Yeah that's fine. I think you can say that."
Me: "And to tell people that even if she had brain cancer that they would give her alternate duties, even if it got really bad."
Her: "Well, management might not live up to that promise, so no need to tell people that. Look, I'd just tell them the bare minimum. Just tell them that she is okay, she is having scans, she isn't sure when she is coming back, but she'll keep them updated, and please don't worry because she has been told that her job is secure and she has financial protection from income protection insurance."
Me: "Yeah that sounds good. What are you going to tell people?"
Her: "Oh I am staying well out of this. She just bites everyone's heads off nowadays. I am very nervous about it at the moment. But she trusts you to say it and I reckon it'll be okay."
So I went to the other people, and as a group I said this:
"Our workmate wanted to let everyone know that she is okay. She isn't sure when she is coming back, and she is having scans, which hopefully will say that everything is okay, but she won't know when she is going to be okay until after the scans. It probably won't be for a month or more. But in the meantime don't worry about her job because management have guaranteed to keep her job open, and not to worry about her wages as she has income protection insurance. She isn't homeless lying in a gutter. She said that she misses everyone and she'll tell us more as soon as she knows."
That was 2 weeks ago and I thought I had done okay.
But then, the day before Easter, she made a miraculous recovery and went to work, just for the day, before relapsing and hasn't been back since. I had that day off so had no idea what had happened until she posted this on Facebook:
"Wow just what I need. I get to work after a month off and everyone is asking me about how my brain cancer is going. Brain cancer?
? I don't have fecking brain cancer!!!! Thanks to my so-called friend, everyone at work thinks that I have brain cancer. The scans aren't even back yet, and shouldn't *I* be the one to tell people? He also went around and told my mum about it. Some friend! Great job, after coming back after a month off to have to deal with that!"
Based on that, pretty much everyone writing told her what a jerk I was and to dump me as a friend for gossipping.
I called her immediately after I saw the message and asked her what the hell was going on.
She told me that I had told everyone. I hadn't. She then admitted that it was just that one person, the mutual friend, but she had told everyone. I found that hard to believe. So I called around to ask her and a few other people at work. She hadn't told anyone. My best friend was just making it up for dramatic effect on Facebook. But she said that the big issue was her mother. The reason, she said, that she hadn't told her mother was because her mother has selective listening and thinks the worst about everything. So I said sorry about that.
Her mother was then blasting me on Facebook, and, possibly to please her mother, my friend was adding my full name and saying what a horrible person I was. They were also both telling mutual friends and people at work and so forth. In the space of an hour, I had lost my best friend of 3 years.
I pointed out to my friend that I had done exactly what she said. What was the issue? She insisted that she hadn't told me to tell everyone I had brain cancer. But she had. And I hadn't told everyone. I had told 2 people - both of whom already knew - or at least I thought that they did.
Was it a mistake to ask for advice for how to deal with this uncomfortable situation?
Obviously, in retrospect, I should have checked to see if her mother knew. I thought that her mother knew since she usually tells her mother everything. Her mother knew about the melanoma, and about the migraines. All that the mother didn't know was the daughter's theory that the migraines were related to the melanoma, and that she might have brain cancer.
I did everything I possibly could to support her in this but I just got bashed over it.
I don't know what I could have done better. I wasn't sure how to handle it so I asked a couple of safe people for advice. Yet for this I got accused of spreading rumours and gossipping - and in punishment she shamed me and spread her own very nasty rumours about me.
Part of me wonders if this is the brain cancer doing it, or if it might be because of her general depression. She has been lashing out a fair bit since her boyfriend died.
Is there any way to get the friendship back? And what, if anything, could I have done differently, or better, to avoid these problems?
Any help is appreciated. Thanks.