Dealing with fatal illness of a loved one

Dear Director:

My mom was diagnosed with a very fatal type of cancer two months ago when her doctor told us there would be a less than 10% chance of her surviving – but he insisted we pursue the treatment anyway. Amazingly, it seems her biweekly chemo treatments have been effective in eradicating a lot of the cancer cells in her brain, so now there’s a chance she’ll be in remission. I was mentally preparing myself for her death and now it seems she may live some time longer. However, because of the nature of her cancer it’s likely that it will return even if with her current remission.

Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to handle the ups and downs of dealing with the fatal illness of a loved one? I prevent myself of getting excited about the effectiveness of the treatment and since I heard the recent good news I’ve felt mostly numb. How can I feel relieved when I know it will be back?

I’m just desperate for advice on how to deal with all this. Thanks for listening.

Jen D., Norwalk, CT

Dear Jen:

How completely exhausting and terrible for your family, I am so very sorry.

I can completely understand your self-protective reaction of feeling numb. It’s emotionally taxing to go from high to low and then low to high. Especially when it all comes at you in a short period of time and the based on outcomes mostly out of your control. Being numb helps to have some semblance of an emotional even keel. Just be careful… some people find that this numbness can be stubborn. It can have the habit of lingering and has the potential to contribute to feelings of depression as time progresses. Talking through the situation would be very helpful. Perhaps you should consider contacting a grief or family counselor, or therapist, to release these things on a regular basis. These professionals are good at what they do. They can help you resolve these conflicting feelings and give you ways to cope with the roller coaster ride of caring for a terminally ill loved one. Also, if you’re spiritual in nature, a clergy member can be someone to reach out to for help. You may find some solace and peace in the perspective they could offer you.

I suppose one way to think about it is this way… any other member of your family could die on the way home from work or the store today…. know that it’s not just your mother who’s mortal (even though it probably seems like it to your family right now). We should all be treating our loved ones with the knowledge that time is finite for all of us. We’re all in this race together.

With that said, the best tip I think of is to please take care of YOU. Despite what you may initially feel, it’s not a selfish act to do so. As the old cliché goes… “Take care of yourself first or you will have nothing left to give others.” Try your best to remain strong and to live in the moment. Be there for your mom on the good days and the bad… show her your love through your patience, strength, courage and compassion. And always remember…. each new day is a gift for all of us; it’s what we do with it that truly matters.

Sincerely,

Lee

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