How to deal with leukemia in the family.
March 2, 2005 9:36 AM   Subscribe

My uncle is battling leukemia. What to do?

He’s about 60 and has gone through two sessions of chemo. He went into the hospital really bad and seems better now, but says his chances are still very bad. He’s going into chemo again, and then will get a mini-transplant from a 23-year old male.

I’ve been writing him letters each week and trying to see him as frequently as possible (I’m in NYC, a busy law student, he’s in Syracuse, and very busy winding down his affairs). He’s as close to a father figure as I’ve ever had, and has given me much advice and good times over the years.

I’m wondering about the emotional side. My uncle and I are both trying to put his possible death out of our minds and just have fun together. However, a friend of mine suggested that “sometimes it's okay (and some think better) to mourn the person before they're gone so that you can work through these issues together and come out the other side at peace with life and death with no regrets.”

How would you deal with this? Have you? Have you seen this from the post-death side? How about if you’re a cancer patient yourself, what do you think? I don’t want to have regrets, but if all I do is mourn my uncle before he even passes, I know I’ll regret it. Any advice would be great, thanks!
posted by lorrer to Human Relations (6 answers total)
What type of leukemia does he have? Some chronic leukemias have little effect on life expectancy for many of those who have it.

Regardless, one resource which I highly recommend is ACOR, the Association of Cancer resources Online. It maintains lists for virtually every type of cancer there is, and will put him in touch with hundreds if not thousands of people in a similar situation.
posted by Neiltupper at 10:29 AM on March 2, 2005

He has acute leukemia, AML. I'm curious about experiences of folks in the mefi community and what emotional/relationship advice you all have.
posted by lorrer at 10:32 AM on March 2, 2005

My mother died from leukaemia nearly six years ago (chronic myeloid, rather than acute, following stem cell transplant and chemotherapy), and I was asking myself a lot of the same questions then. I'd rather not go into it in too much detail here, but if you want to email me your address, I'd gladly talk away – my address is in my profile.
posted by Len at 10:53 AM on March 2, 2005

lorrer - My mother died of brain cancer while I was in my final year of college (9 years ago, almost). I learned a lot about grieving and balancing my life during that experience. It's not the same thing, but the email's in the profile. Feel free.
posted by socratic at 1:23 PM on March 2, 2005

Both my folks have cancer and my father has a chronic leukemia. We all get by really well pretending that it doesn't exist. "Cancer? What the fuck is cancer?" is the general attitude of the Golden household. I call frequently to tell them I love them, but I've always done that since I'm paranoid about sudden death.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 4:49 PM on March 2, 2005

“sometimes it's okay (and some think better) to mourn the person before they're gone so that you can work through these issues together and come out the other side at peace with life and death with no regrets.”

I'd like to caution you about this, as I tried it myself when my father was dying from lung cancer. Basically, we made sure that all our loose ends were wrapped up (there weren't many; we had a pretty unambivalently positive relationship, mostly based on unconditional love.) And we talked about things. And so I figured when he finally died it'd be okay.

But it wasn't okay. My life went on and I still missed him and his unconditional love and wanted to talk with him and hear his wise advice and know that he still cared. And, darnit, being dead means you can't do those things, permanently. The permanence of death still boggles me when I really sit down to think about it. Sounds silly, right? But it was really hard to accept.

One thing he said to me during one of those chats: "Son, I don't know what happens after we die. But if there's any way - any way at all - that it's possible, I want you to know that when you need me, I will be there with you, looking over your shoulder, thinking good thoughts for you, because that's how much I love you."

At the time I thought it was a silly thing to say. I didn't understand why he said it. But as the years have gone by, the amount of comfort it has given me is indescribable. Immense. (At the time I was worried if there was anywhere in the world he wanted to travel, or any new experiences he wanted to try, people he needed to talk to - red herrings, really, as it turned out.)

I don't know what kind of relationship you and your uncle have, but if it's very deep and intense, maybe consider having a similar conversation.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2005 [3 favorites]

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