Brother with cancer; now what?
March 2, 2015 11:04 AM   Subscribe

My 30 year-old brother called me last night to tell me that he has been diagnosed with testicular cancer (based on blood markers/physical examination). His CT scan is later this week, and he'll be scheduled for surgery/radiation/? shortly depending on the results. If you have been through this, what can I do or not do to make this easier for him?

He lives in a state thousands of miles away, with another brother and 45 minutes away. He has a great wife but no kids and reasonable health insurance/sick leave. There are five siblings and we are fairly close and get along well, but are generally pretty wasp-y/reserved/private about issues of health. I told him to tell me what I could do to help from afar, but I know he'll never ask, and neither will his wife.
posted by My Top Secret Sock Puppet Account to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I was just diagnosed with cancer and live far away from most of my family and good friends. Everyone has the same question you do: what can I do to help? And the answer is: I have no fucking clue right now because I am freaking out. So, what I have appreciated are people just doing stuff without me having to figure out what they should do: i.e., having groceries delivered to my house (junk food is nice but I quickly became overloaded with baked goods and candy so sending some healthy stuff will probably be welcomed - I also received a gift certificate for Plated, which delivers ingredients for complete meals to your doorstep), signing me up for a service that will clean my house (even though my husband is the house-cleaner, he needs the help, too), signing me up for a few months of Oyster so I will have unlimited books to read during chemo and when I'm feeling bad, sending things like comedy DVDs, books, and soft blankets.

And this may be just my own personal issue, but I find people constantly asking how I'm doing to be exhausting. It doesn't change much from one day to the next, after all, and on the rare occasions I'm able to not think about it much and just live my life, it snaps me right back into Cancer Brain to have someone texting me asking when chemo starts. I know you want to know what's going on and let him know you support him, but I would try to keep the questions to a minimum and wait for him to open up about what's going on if he feels up to it. If you're close with his wife, maybe try talking to her as well - my husband has been way more receptive to wanting to talk about what's going on than I am.
posted by something something at 11:20 AM on March 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


Sorry, also: you know what has helped me more than anything is people just acting like nothing has changed, that I'm still the same person with the same interests and same potential future. I had someone doing the texting-with-a-million questions thing last weekend, interspersed with my sister sending me pictures from her shopping trip to ask what I thought of the dresses she was trying on, and guess which one made me feel better?
posted by something something at 11:25 AM on March 2, 2015 [12 favorites]


My uncle has been ravaged with colon cancer for about 2 years now, and I live just down the street from him. I gave up asking what I could do, because he and his girlfriend never ask (and my cousins take care of things), but anytime I have been proactive and said, "Hey, I made some chicken tonight and I want to bring some over to you," or "It's a nice day out, so can I come over and help with the backyard?" The #1 thing he appreciates, though, is just sitting and talking to him, because he's alone a lot of the time (housebound, I mean, not totally alone), so new company is welcome, when he's up to it.

Since you are far away, I'd say send him things he likes or could use unasked. See if he'd like to Skype about something, or maybe hop on Twitter together and watch a show while making snarky comments. Whatever you can do to help without burdening him to come up with a task will most definitely be welcomed.
posted by xingcat at 11:47 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's hard to give concrete advice without knowing your family, your ability to travel, if your brother is normally the primary housekeeper, etc.

Personally, one of the best things that my distant family did during my husband's recent cancer treatment was just reminding us that they loved us and that there was life outside of cancer - sending us cards and emails that didn't just demand news about us, but talked about their own lives and struggles and triumphs, reminders about significant events of our past (for example, a family friend who sent us cookies and a bunch of written memories from our wedding), and plans for the future.
posted by muddgirl at 11:53 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


And this may be just my own personal issue, but I find people constantly asking how I'm doing to be exhausting.

this a thousand times. Not that I'm in a cancer fight right now, but I do have other annoying stuff going on. All I can say really is, make an effort to "read the room". And in particular, don't ask "how are you doing?" unless you really want to hear the answer, unedited, chaotic, at length.

Also this a million times:

what has helped me more than anything is people just acting like nothing has changed, that I'm still the same person with the same interests and same potential future.

... with the obvious caveat that there are now some things that an afflicted person just can't do anymore. So an effort to be conscious of these is always going to be appreciated.
posted by philip-random at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


You are having the natural human inclination to DO SOMETHING!!! right now, but everything is up in the air until later this week (and probably for another 5-10 days after that).

If you want to send a "thinking of you" gift right now, make it a gift of distraction. Amazon credit with a note like "the dumb action movies are on me this week", especially if they have a Roku/bluray/xbox/other device that plays Amazon content through the TV. Or iTunes App Store/Google Play/Steam credit for games (and don't exclude his wife, as she'll also be brain-stunned and may have a lot of waiting room time in her future; sometimes 27 rounds of Candy Crush or Angry Birds is all you're capable of).

If things get serious, I'd say nominate the closest brother to be the Coordinator of Doing/Buying/Handling (if you think he's good at that sort of thing) to organize efforts around food, chores, mass communications, etc.

Try not to assume the worst just yet, or if you do, do it privately. They are probably not emotionally prepared to be handed a schedule of delivered meals and housekeeping when treatment might be extremely straightforward and minimally incapacitating.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


For the moment, hang in there. Take care of yourself, get some good exercise, try to sleep normally and generally be calm and present to yourself.

The LAST thing your brother wants right now is to also have to take care of your emotional response to this thing. I had a traumatic thing happen recently and the most irritating thing was having to help others process their own feelings about it. I just did NOT have the energy for that, and it made me a touch resentful when I was barely getting through the days myself.

If it ends up being cancer, one very specific thing you can buy him is an iPad, especially an iPad mini, if he doesn't already have one.

There will be downtime and being able to watch your own shows, or play a mindless game, or read something light, is so much better than relying on whatever crappy TV is playing in the clinic, or trying to focus on a book you want to read but don't have the energy to focus on. Laptops are OK but they can be awkward to balance on your lap and you need two hands to move them around. iPad minis are so convenient.

Stock it with some media if you can, and if possible, be sure to include a big iTunes gift certificate. This is a concrete thing that others can help purchase if you can't afford it on your own.

Second thing: house cleaning service - such a huge help for both the patient, and to relieve some of the pressure from the primary caretaker.
posted by barnone at 12:05 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


In case you haven't heard of it, you might want to read about the "Ring Theory (Comfort In, Dump Out)". Really helpful when thinking about the kinds of communication that would be helpful, and who to direct your questions/feelings to.
posted by msbubbaclees at 12:25 PM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Everyone has the same question you do: what can I do to help? And the answer is: I have no fucking clue right now because I am freaking out.

There are people I know well who have not told some or all of their far-away friends and family about cancer diagnoses and treatment, specifically to avoid this sort of scenario.
posted by aught at 1:13 PM on March 2, 2015


I don't know your brother's (duh) personality, but my friend was diagnosed w testicular cancer in college and went on to write a play about it. It's funny and angry. And not rah rah survivor-y. He performs it a lot for med students. And does workshops with young adults with cancer. And it's a book.
posted by atomicstone at 1:29 PM on March 2, 2015


There are people I know well who have not told some or all of their far-away friends and family about cancer diagnoses and treatment, specifically to avoid this sort of scenario.

Yeah, so when I had some (eventually no big deal but stressful at the time) cancer-y stuff going on a couple years ago I actually didn't even tell my now-husband for a couple days because I didn't want to deal with his questions/freakout on top of mine, and really get this. The rest of my family still doesn't know about it. So: I know my instincts are to mostly leave him the hell alone- it's what I would want, for the most part, if it were me- but I'm guessing that there is a middle ground between smothering and neglect, which is what I assume a more normal person like him would want and is where I'm aiming.

It is very very likely it is cancer because there's not much else that can explain the bloodwork and symptoms. It could obviously end up being no big deal- testicular cancer tends to be very treatable if caught early, sometimes just with surgery- or a big deal; right now he's trying to go forward assuming it is going to be the no big deal kind and keeping it low-key.

Since it was asked: I can't really travel until the summer because of the nature of my work, although I could pop over for a weekend or two if needed. I have a reasonable amount of disposable financial resources.

Depending on what the staging/treatment ends up being and the timeline thereof, I think a meal service and/or housecleaning (more for his wife, who is the primary cleaner) would be a good start once we know what we're really dealing with. He already has an iPad; I think I'll make sure he has Amazon Prime and a chunky gift card for mindless entertainment as required for the time being. Thanks everyone, for the help and ideas.
posted by My Top Secret Sock Puppet Account at 2:41 PM on March 2, 2015


« Older Technical Approaches for paper-based data...   |   "Barcode" style graphs from spreadsheet? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.