How to cope with mom's illness?
September 21, 2012 8:57 AM   Subscribe

What are some tips to cope with mom's illness/despair?

She finished chemotherapy and has a good prognosis. I've been visiting her about every 2 weeks and emailing her. It's been very hard to see her bald, sick with awful side effects, frail, and crying. She is so sad and scared still. She says things like, if the cancer came back she'd rather die from that than endure the horrible side effects of chemo again. This makes me sad, but it also breaks my heart to see her like this- like a sad little girl. Hard to see her vulnerable like this. I continue to go to therapy (3 years now?) because it is so beneficial for me, so this is definitely something I talk about-I have 2 more weeks until my next session and just feel like seeking advice from others who may have gone through this.
posted by dt2010 to Human Relations (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Is she in therapy? It would certainly be beneficial for her to go, or to a support group where she can talk with other people who have gone through this. Many support groups are for people going through chemo and their families, so I would find some, or a therapist, that you can see together.
posted by xingcat at 9:03 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you and your Mom are going through this. You've already been visiting her so you probably have established something of a pattern of interactions. Still, my experience: make sure she is OK about expressing preferences to you. Some people want to be cheered up and distracted, some are clear that they just want to be sad for a while. (Even if your outcome is good there is a sadness and vulnerability about having serious medical stuff.)

But even more, don't worry too much as long as you are showing up and saying, "What can I do to help?"
posted by BibiRose at 9:06 AM on September 21, 2012

From talks with others who have had loved ones go through this (and from my recent experience with my mom, who is finished with radiation, yay!) it is normal for them to be, well, fragile emotionally. Of course everyone reacts to these things differently. I know that for me, seeing my mom in a vulnerable state shook me up because, hey, mom-it's hard to see your MOTHER that way.

I am assuming you want tips for YOUR coping as well as anything to make her feel better. In a sense we have to respect their reaction to illness but it's okay to gently encourage-i.e.-repeat, the prognosis is good. But sometimes, we feel what we feel, and we just have to, you know, feel it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:06 AM on September 21, 2012

Choosing whether to succumb to an illness or treat it with something that has side effects so bad that it fairly ruins the standard of life is a difficult choice that people have to make. Some people would rather have their life end peacefully, some would rather hold on to the last thread no matter how unable they are to do anything because of their physical condition. I think the best thing you can do here is be there for your mom to talk to and make sure she knows you'll support whatever choice she makes. If she's on the uptrend, remind her that she is healing and every day is getting a little bit better, and that you are so happy to have her.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:18 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry for you and your mother's suffering. My mother also went through painful cancer treatments, 5 years ago directly after the birth of my first child. Personally, managing the stress at the time was very difficult. It is important to remember to take care of your health (mental yes, but also physical) make sure you are getting some sort of regular physical exercise and eating healthily. When you are in stressful situations it is really easy to get ill, and being even a little under the weather can exacerbate depression or other mental issues.

The other thing I want to share is that, even though my mom's cancer was "minor" and she had a positive outcome the multiple surgery's + months of treatment have left a noticeable (and I assume permanent) change. Mom was always a bubbly optimist, and she's just not anymore. She tires more easily, she takes a darker view of things. She's less prone to try something new. Make sure as you're supporting your mom through this that you're observing who she is now. Some of the hardest adjustments I've had to do were related to realigning my expectations of my Mom's reactions to things.
posted by dadici at 9:43 AM on September 21, 2012

I think DoubleLune has it. Don't be relentlessly cheerfully in the face of her frailty, but when she is down, remind her that the worst is behind her and you are glad that she is here beside you today. Dwelling on the past makes her lose herself in the memory of the horrible chemo. Thinking about the future, as you say, only causes her anxiety. Find ways to bring her into the moment. She is a survivor. Look how strong she is. Look how much stronger she is today than she was last time you saw her. Make sure she gets dressed, maybe puts on some lipstick, and you tell her she's looking stronger. Every time, you tell her she's stronger today than she was last time.
posted by toastedbeagle at 9:45 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Look at yourself being strong and solid for her, more than cheerful with platitudes that it is all going to be o.k. (occasionally yes, but not all the time).

Look at yourself as being her strength so that she doesn't need to be strong. That will take some of the stress of her, and allow her to just be and heal.
posted by Vaike at 10:22 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Looking better might make your mom feel better. Does she have a wig or a pretty head scarf? An eyebrow pencil? Can you think of something "girly" to bring her? Something to remind her that she is still an attractive woman?
posted by Cranberry at 10:33 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, she's done chemotherapy? So won't the side effects disappear soon? I imagine that you won't have to see her so frail and sick for much longer, does that make it any easier to cope?

I sympathize with you both but you are both lucky and it might help to try to remember that and have gratitude for the good things. I am watching my mom die from a terminal illness with no chance of survival. Both she and I would be beyond grateful if there was any chance that she would survive. Your mom has a good prognosis; neither of you should waste time worrying about dire possibilities. Enjoy living!
posted by amro at 10:58 AM on September 21, 2012

My mother died of cancer a little over 10 years ago after fighting it for 3 years. I was 21 when she died and know what you are going through.

My advice is to not do what I did. I ignored it. I choose not to deal with it and instead I buried myself in my work and school.

At the time I thought that I was being the strong one in the family. The one who was holding myself together so I could stay strong so that my dad and my older siblings could lean on me for support. Now I see that I just wasn't dealing with working through the emotions.

Now I'm having a hard time remembering anything about her other than her last few days which were treacherous for the whole family. She literally starved to death as we all watched her. It was one of those cases where the pain and suffering should have been avoided by assisted suicide. Our laws are fucked.

I can remember all kinds of things from my childhood but for some reason I hit a mental block when I try to remember specific things about my mother and that has created a deep sadness inside of me.

The fact that you are in therapy and dealing with this is a very good thing. Don't push it down inside yourself because then you will be dealing with it for much longer and in a much more painful way.

Hopefully your mother makes a full recovery and is able to live the rest of her days in peace.

Keep your chin.
posted by nickerbocker at 11:12 AM on September 21, 2012

*keep your chin up.
posted by nickerbocker at 11:13 AM on September 21, 2012

The crying might not really be due to emotion per se. It might be her body coming up with excuses to purge more of the toxic chemo drugs. That would be a good thing, to move her healing forward.

I really don't quite know how to say this, but I would view her verbal rejection of more chemo as a healthy impetus. One person with cancer told me that having cancer was not painful but treatment was torture. Wanting to suffer is not emotionally healthy. Railing against the suffering is a good place to start to reclaim your body and your life.

Pain and suffering are supposed to be objectionable. Objecting to them and being crotchety about it improves odds of survival. I have read that it is the grumpy, argumentative old people who live longer. The ones who quietly let doctors do whatever have poorer survival rates. On chronic illness lists, I am always much more disturbed by people who are quietly and meekly accepting. People who are angry and fighting tooth and nail seem to do better and seem emotionally healthier to me.

I would try to help her rail against the injustice and suffering and help her feel okay about honestly saying "I feel like I would rather die than endure more of the same". A lot of very ill people won't say things like that. They swallow their politically incorrect feelings. I think it does them no good. I would try to validate her right to object to enduring something which, if it were not medical treatment, would be in violation of the Geneva Convention.

I am sorry you are both suffering so.
posted by Michele in California at 4:10 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Talk to the hospital and her doctor's office and see if there's a cancer support group. Being with others who have experienced what she has and who understand the fear and loss may help. Keep listening to her. If she's scared, telling her not to be scared won't help; listening to her fears is a start. Same with sadness; she's lost her sense of herself as healthy, and has met mortality, and she's grieving.

If she likes movies, get her funny movies, maybe the familiar movies that were popular in her 20s. Laughter is a healthy way to cope, and a way out of the pit of grief. I also recommend sunshine and fresh air - maybe some scenic dives? and healthy food to rebuild her immune system. She's lucky to have your love and support. Best of luck to you both.
posted by theora55 at 4:38 PM on September 22, 2012

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