moms rule
March 19, 2007 8:36 PM   Subscribe

my mother was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. do any of you have ideas for little things i can do for her to remind her how awesome she is? girls especially. what are some of the best, most thoughtful things loved ones have done for you?

it was out of left field to say the least, the consensus is she'll make it about a year, it's inoperable. i'm moving back across the country to spend as much time with her as i can. money, though it's not tight, is an issue. i need to be conservative on that since insurance may run out (god bless america). all i've got so far is an hour massage every other week.
posted by andywolf to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer 2 years ago and was given 3 months to live... so diagnoses are not always set in stone-- I've found that keep optimistic certainly helps. My sister went through all our old photo albums and compiled a photo album / scrapbook of pictures of my mother's life from her childhood to the current time, it was a Christmas gift and much appreciated.
posted by perpetualstroll at 8:52 PM on March 19, 2007

Can you learn to do her nails? I mean a full manicure-- soaking and massaging and buffing and painting and all. maybe stay clear of cuticle trimming if you do not feel comfortable with that. When my mom was recovering from a stroke she found manicures to be relaxing and special.

My best to you and your family.
posted by oflinkey at 8:59 PM on March 19, 2007

Ask her to teach you something or everything she knows.
Take her on weekly dates. Take pictures, go through old ones, scrapbook together. Involve her in your life more if she likes. Give her a lot of kisses and hugs. Good for you for moving out there. Money never made anybody happier than company did.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:01 PM on March 19, 2007

Response by poster: i was thinking about doing little interviews and editing them together. she's got good stories about growing up on a farm, etc. plus i haven't had kids, or been married yet, so passing her life on when i finally do sounds good.
posted by andywolf at 9:07 PM on March 19, 2007

Andywolf, so sorry to hear it. Most of the things I can think of are more for you than for her, but she'd probably enjoy them too. I'm thinking of things like: talking to her. Ask her any question you may regret not having asked her. Childhood memories, how she met your father, her memories of her parents and grandparents, etc.
Also, create memories with her. Is there anywhere she'd like to travel, or that you would like to see with her? I recently traveled with my mother to the towns her grandparents emigrated from, and it was very significant for both of us. I hope to have her around for a good long time, but I'll always remember that trip with her.
Take pictures. Record her voice. Get her to identify old family pictures (and reminisce about who those people were).
And, anything you can do that will make her life easier without infantilizing her would probably be good. If she doesn't absolutely love grocery shopping, perhaps you could look into having her groceries delivered. Many services like that cost little or no more than you'd pay doing it yourself, and will save time and aggravation. Keep an eye out, though, for not making her feel useless. If she wants to cook dinner, don't force her to sit in a chair while you do it (or order takeout).
Best of luck. I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to say.
posted by katemonster at 9:08 PM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: oh, and while i'm at it. my dad is old school, no emotion or talk about life kind of guy. any ideas on convincing him to try (group) therapy?
posted by andywolf at 9:11 PM on March 19, 2007

Make things for her. If there are any children in your family - grandchildren of hers, or if her siblings have grandchildren, handmade things from them. Even if they're too young to know she has cancer, they're not too old to get their hands stamped in that clay stuff, or scribble on a card.

If this is a type of cancer that might make her vomit/not have an appetite, there are some (wink wink nudge nudge) types of things you might be able to do/procure that might make her not barf, or might make food more bearable.

If she doesn't already have a housekeeper, someone to come in and do a weekly or every other week clean up. Bonus points if you can get her out of the house while it's being done. It's tough to not be able to care for your own home, so start before she's not able to do it herself so she's not feeling inadequate. And don't say anything about it, just get her out of the house, have it clean when she gets back. Unless that would freak her out. If you think it would freak her out, talk to her about it.

Does she have a pet? Does she want a pet if she doesn't already?

Because she might not be eating things she especially enjoys at some point, go out of your way to get her things you know she loves. Ask for a list. One from her, and one from everyone who knows her. She might feel on the spot and forget to list some things. She might not even be aware of how much she enjoys some things that other people will have noticed.

Read to her. If you are expecting to have children (and for the children already in the family) if she's up to it, have her record some children's books.

Have her record some stories that are about you.

Cook with her.

Seconding the manicure. Pedicure too if she doesn't mind you touching her feet.

And tell her that it's ok to cry.
posted by bilabial at 9:27 PM on March 19, 2007

Oh, dude, I'm so, so sorry. If it were me in this situation, I'[d start audio taping her talking about family her for some. It'll make her feel nice to talk about and remember them, and it'l be lovely for you to have when she's gone.
posted by tristeza at 9:34 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, my heart goes out to you all. The above suggestions are so great, I was especially going to emphasize videotaping her reminiscing about her family, growing up, falling in love, raising a family. Encourage her to talk - about anything & everything... even a videotape of her talking about your growing up, etc. for your future children. Take her for drives in the country, especially if she grew up on a farm & especially with springtime coming on - a picnic if that is still possible. A family photo. Have someone come in and do a springclean. Burn a CD of her favourite music, watch her favourite movies. Read to her. Take her to a favourite restaurant or cook a favourite meal if that is still possible. Would she want to reconnect with any old friends or family? As strange as this may sound, what an amazing gift you have been given especially if she is aware of the situation & willing to talk about it. Allow her any & all the goodbyes she needs. Be positive & hopeful, but allow her to talk about her death as she needs to. Regarding your father, I would contact the local hospice (if you already haven't) they will be able to give you some guidance. Certainly check online about hospice. I wish you all the best on what must be a very difficult journey.
posted by ranchgirl7 at 9:38 PM on March 19, 2007

Massage is good. Writing down or otherwise capturing stories about her childhood/young adulthood. If she feels sick, books on CD or radio shows/podcasts or music that she likes. Being present with her, with or without talking. Remind her of times when she really stood by you, or made you laugh, or did the right thing, or when you both had fun.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:39 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

A lot of these suggestions will help you cope with losing her. But please find out what she wants to do with the time she has left and facilitate that as opposed to things you have always wanted to do with her. Her ideas about how to spend the last months of her life may turn out to be different from yours.

Any or all of the things people suggested may enrich your time together, as will anything you have always enjoyed to do together - as long as your mother wants to do them.

She may receive treatment with severe side effects - anything that will alleviate these, maker her feel good about her body would be nice. This could be massages, facials or such like - you could do these for her.

If you are both comfortable with the topic one of the nicest things you can do for her is find out how she would like to be cared for when she becomes too ill to look after herself, what kind of medical intervention she would like (or not like) to receive and where she would like to die.

It may be a great comfort to her to know that you understand her wishes and will try to ensure they are respected. And it may help you/your family to make decisions about her care should doctors call on you to do so.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:57 PM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: I'm sorry to hear that andywolf. My Mom was diagnosed with cancer last year which had an iffy survival rate but she came out the other end okay. Her roomate has had an ongoing battle with cancer for the past 5-7 years, so I speak with some experience of what older women seem to like.

My Mom's roomate got a cat. She liked having a little critter to take care of, that relied on her and that didn't notice when she felt bad, was sick or didn't put her wig/makeup on. She was a little vain about her appearance which was shot for a while after chemo [hair stuff, weight loss stuff] and having company that wasn't clearly looking at her was something she liked.

Comfort food was a big deal. For my Mom's roommate it was foods from home (England) and my Mom really liked fresh fruit and orange juice from her favorite store, especially when she really didn't fel like getting up to get it.

I don't know what your Mom's support network is like, but if she's got a lot of friends/family who want to help her out, one of the things you could do is help organize/manage them. A lot of people don't really know how to help out and so they show up and say "what can I do?" which is nice but for someone who is sick it's not alway shelpful (your Mom may be different, but this was my experience) and so giving people jobs or ideas about how to help [you can do laundry, you can help keep the flowerbed nice, you can take books to/from the library, you can do her hair &c] is often helpful.

As far as your Dad, the support group thing is unlikely, but making sure the two of you have some away time that is just for the two of you will likely be helpful to her and him. There will be lot of things for him to do and think about and once you make sure the basics are covered (does he know all the bank info, her personal wishes, where her will is, living will, hospital/medical preferences, etc) you can just make sure he has some emotional support, however he needs that. Seeing the two of you together will likely be a comfort to your Mom since she knows at some level you will be left behind without her, but together.

For my Mom slee became a big issue. She was in some pain post-surgery that didn't go away for a while, and so getting the perfect combination of pillows and heat and blankets and whatever was a big deal for her. Making sure she has the options available so that she can get rest is important, in addition to calming things that feel good like footbaths and electric blankets.

Look into home hospice options while she is still well enough to make her preferences and wishes known. Not everyone wants to go this route, but depending on how everyone feels about it, if it's available to your family, it can be a way to have a little more control and personal surrondings when things start to get more difficult. That link has a lot of good caregiver information in it.

I think you'l get a feeling after being with your Mom how she is going to react to things, so just try to be available to her for what she wants, and try to suss out what she wants, perhaps with your father's assistance, if she's not super communicative. I hope you get to spend some quality time with your family Feel free to email if there's anything else I can help with.
posted by jessamyn at 10:01 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

My late mother was very upset that her grandchildren would not remember her. If your mother feels the same way, then go for the archiving idea.

One thing is that a slow cancer death brings a host of indignities with it. More and more professional carers are going to come into your lives, and no matter how good they are there may be times when they are insensitive to your mothers needs or sense of dignity. Be an advocate for your mother, be around to do little things for her.

Depending on your parents' relationship, your mother may worry about your father. Keep a (respectful) eye on him and let your mother know that you are doing so.

Things that caused difficulty in my family:
- pain relief is going to be morphine in the end. This suppresses the appetite and accelerates the wasting. It is very hard to watch someone effectively starve because they won't eat.
- when they lose consciousness and go for the last time, at some point you will have to decide when enough is enough. Your mother may already have views on this. It will in the end be up to your dad. Be prepared to know your mothers views if they were expressed, and respect her and your father's wishes.

My dad is like your dad. My strong recommendation is that you don't try and get him into group therapy. It is not his generation's way. Some people cope best by keeping a lid on their emotions and they are entitled to pursue that strategy if they want to. If he wants to cry, in likelihood he wants to do it where no one can see him, so far from providing unwanted attention, make sure he is left alone or just with your mother when he wants to be. And if he wants to talk to someone, maybe that should be you. You may find, as I did, that there is lot of your prehistory he would like to tell you about, that there are things that he would like to confide in you. That is a way that some good can come from this difficult and terrible time for your family.

Best to you and your family. This will not be easy, but you will manage.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:18 PM on March 19, 2007

Thirding the manicures/pedicures -- when my mom was recovering from an illness several years ago, giving her a manicure every week became such a nice ritual for both of us. She got a kick out of the groovy colors I picked out for her, we giggled over her hairy toes, and I got to pamper her a little bit in a fairly low-key way.

Does your mom have a neighbor or friend who does hair? It feels so good to have one's hair washed and trimmed/styled a little, perhaps she would enjoy that.

If she's up for cooking, maybe work with her to teach you her favorite/best recipes and capture them to share with the family.

Would your father be more willing to attend group therapy if you (or another family member) went with him? It might make him feel more comfortable about attending, even if he's not quite ready to talk. If not, perhaps spending time with him (with no pressure to talk) would be a good alternative: go on walks, do errands, etc.

My thoughts are with you.
posted by vespertine at 10:31 PM on March 19, 2007

andywolf - very sorry to hear your news.

The food issue is big one. When my Dad was going through cancer treatment he became quite upset that none of his favourite foods tasted right. So my stepmother tried a whole lot of different things (and I sent over some treats from Japan like miso soup - which he'd never had before but liked) and he got a new bunch of favourites which made him feel a lot happier.

Also what jessamyn said - just try to be there for your Dad - make sure you both get some time out - alone and together - even just outside to a park and have a beer or something. Even if he doesn't talk much - it will help him to know you are there too.
posted by gomichild at 11:05 PM on March 19, 2007

Others have made excellent suggestions above, esp:
1. try to get a sense of her wishes about the very end; the earlier you can get this sense the better

2. it's hugely useful to have someone be the coordinator of visits/volunteers. (esp to be the one to tactfully say "no, I'm sorry, she's tired today and not up for any visits")

3. trivial compared to the other things, but: if she's very invested in the cleanliness/upkeep of the house, arrange to have that continue (either you do the cleaning or see about hiring a cleaner to come through once a week). Ditto for gardens, whatever. Think about what things matter to her, in terms of what she spends her energy on normally, and try to help ensure -- where possible -- that these things keep rolling when she doesn't have the energy.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:32 PM on March 19, 2007

Write a list of 100 reasons why she is awesome.

Or 100 little memories of her that warm your heart.
posted by mjao at 3:02 AM on March 20, 2007

Look into hospice right away. They have a range of services that will bring your mom and your family comfort.

You're doing the right thing moving across the country. My mom came to live with me when she got sick, but I'll always regret not taking a leave of absence from work to devote more time to her.

Ask for a case manager from her insurance company if you haven't already, ours was invaluable.
posted by hilby at 5:55 AM on March 20, 2007

I know you want to do more, but please know how much it must mean to her that you have chosen to be with her. Your presence is huge. I am sure you are doing (and will do) so many little things that you are not even aware of, that please her.

Another thing that took me a while to learn is that everyone has their own way and you have to let them go that way, do things, be in this moment as they are. That goes for you too.

At some point it might come up that she needs to know that you'll be o.k when she's gone -- letting her know that you will, is another gift.

Tell her you love her. Tell her again.
posted by nnk at 6:22 AM on March 20, 2007

My mother passed away from ovarian cancer 8 years ago. She was ill for approximately 2.5 years if memory serves, but the whole time the doctors never gave her more than a few months to live.

One thing to remember is that you (and your other siblings, if applicable) are your mother's most direct and lasting legacy. Make sure she knows she did a good job. Spend time with her. Leave her confident that you are strong, moral, and that you will carry on.

Try not to say things that could make her feel guilty about dying.

My mother lived for moments of normality, even if they were far from normal. As an example, her primary luxury prior to the illness was enjoying good restaurants. She couldn't eat very much food once she was quite sick, but she still took pleasure in going to her favorite restaurants, and simply smelling the food, smelling the wine, and then eating something more bland, while we sat with her. If your mother has a favorite activity, try to find a way to make it work, at least a little.

As for comforts, it's good if you can make it easier for her to communicate with those she loves. A decent speakerphone can be useful for this, so she can talk to somebody without the strain of keeping her arm to her ear.

Your moving is a wonderful thing, and will be well appreciated.
posted by mosch at 6:49 AM on March 20, 2007

oh, and while i'm at it. my dad is old school, no emotion or talk about life kind of guy. any ideas on convincing him to try (group) therapy?

I would suggest that you simply respect his difference on this one. My father was the same way, and for real problems (like the death of a loved one), so am I.

I wouldn't want to be pressured into such an uncomfortable and unnatural situation, especially when the topic is something so close to my heart.
posted by mosch at 7:01 AM on March 20, 2007

I am very sorry about your mom.

My mom died of breast cancer about 4 years ago. She was in and out of the hospital (mostly in) for the last 6 months of her life.

Three things stand out

First, I nth the manicure/pedicure suggestion. Even if you don't want to deal with the nail polish and remover, a foot rub with some cooling mint gel is nice.

Second, be sure to ask your mom lots of questions about her past and your past. We lost so much family history when my mom died.

Third, when she's in the hospital or receiving care, don't be afraid to be a (pleasant and polite) PITA. If she's in a room with someone who is making a lot of noise, ask them to move her. If her IV runs out, let them know. If she's cold and needs blankets, ask for more (or find out where the linen closet is). I realize a hospital is not a hotel, but during the last days of her life, she should be as comfortable as possible. And sometimes you need to be pro-active about this.

Fourth (okay one more), spend as much time as possible with her. Even if she's asleep and you're watching TV, your presence will be welcome. I spent about 6 hours a day with my mom during her last weeks and find consolation in knowing that I was a comfort.
posted by suki at 8:29 AM on March 20, 2007

Go places -- botanical gardens, museums, malls, wherever she likes to go. Many people don't realize that almost all public places have wheelchairs people can use. My mom, though very weak, could not quite allow herself to be pushed in a wheelchair, so I would say, "well, I'll just bring it, and then if you want to sit down for a minute, and there's no place to sit, you can sit there." And that worked great.

Also I did her housework in the middle of the night so as not to rub her dependency in her face. The house just magically stayed clean, and she didn't have to feel lousy about it. I think that is a big deal for women of past generations -- it is hard for them to be taken care of, when they are used to taking care of everybody else.

My mom liked to travel, so we did that, just slower and with more sitting around.

Another thing -- terminal cancer patients are in and out of the hospital all the time. Luckily, there is a lot of fun to be had in the hospital. If she can get out of bed, tour the hospital in a wheelchair. Go look at the babies. Get a phrasebook in whatever other language the nurses speak at that hospital and both of you try to talk to them. (The nurses will be delighted, which can only improve their treatment of your mom.) Learn cat's cradle (maybe she can teach you.) Read aloud to her. Get somebody with a guitar to come to the hospital room and play songs she likes, or bring a boombox. Both of you brainstorm entertaining things someone who felt lousy could do in the hospital.

Because this is all you get. There will be time enough to be sad. She isn't going to feel better, so you want to help her enjoy her life as much as she can while feeling lousy.
posted by Methylviolet at 1:30 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks a ton, this all helps alot.
posted by andywolf at 2:48 PM on March 20, 2007

when my mom was going in for surgery i bought her a few silk nightshirts, because looking good even when in the hospital mattered to her.

i visited every week and did laundry, cleaned the house, and made a week's worth of food for my parents.

more if you need it, just ask.
posted by sdn at 6:40 PM on March 20, 2007

My mom died of pancreatic cancer a little over a year ago, about 4 months post-diagnosis. She got a skin infection that overwhelmed her from a pedicure at a salon so if you go that way, be careful.

As for things to do, the best thing I found was just being around her. We talked about family, her life, I asked her all the questions I could think of. I learned a lot from her that I didn't really know. How my parents really met, her version of the proposal, what it was like to give birth to me and my sister, basically things I never even thought to ask.

One of my many regrets was that we never recorded any of our talks. I would give all I have to be able to sit and listen to her voice again.

She was worried about my Dad a lot so reassurances, however silly they may have sounded, that I would be there for him too helped ease her mind. Most of all, just be there, remind her that you love her, and let her know you will be there when the time comes. I wish you and your family the best.
posted by karmaville at 10:27 PM on March 20, 2007

I am so, so sorry to hear about your mom. My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002.

Terrific ideas here on how to pamper her. She needs to be touched in ways that don't involve needles, tape, bandages, oxygen get the idea. Hand massage, foot massage is all good, and make sure her feet are always comfy. Get her some super-soft socks or slippers.

And I agree about being a PITA in the hospital. If it's too cold, get the temp adjusted or hunt down extra blankets. If she's thirsty and would love a Sonic root beer float, go get her one. If she looks uncomfortable with all the interns in the room during an exam, ask the attending physician to get them out. If the physician uses too many acronyms, ask him/her to spell it out. If you have questions about her treatment - hunt down the doctor(s) involved and get your questions answered.

Understand what she's not handling/dealing with and handle it for her.

Hospice care is wonderful. Look into that right away if you haven't already. Hospice staff are experts at anticipating what you're unlikely to anticipate, or to fill needs that you didn't think about or forgot about in all the stress.

I don't think there's any one grand gesture (aside from your moving to be with her) that will tell her how special she is...just being there to hold her hand is the most powerful thing you could do.
posted by ariana at 12:01 PM on March 21, 2007

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