Help me deal with my mom's demands, in light of her possible medical situation.
August 7, 2007 9:59 AM   Subscribe

My mom says she has cancer. I don't buy it.

First, a issues of location:
I go to school in North Carolina. However, my brother and I spend my summers in Pennsylvania. (My parents are divorced and my dad lives there).
My mom lives in North Carolina along with my brother.
Currently, both my brother and I are visiting our grandparents, in West Virginia.
My mom is staying with a friend in Pennsylvania. (She lived in PA before NC).
My dad is on vacation on the West Coast.

Yesterday evening, I received a call from my mother who was very upset, and wanted me to drive to PA for no apparent reason. She said I needed to come ASAP. I do intend eventually to return to PA, but I'm not quite done spending time with my grandparents. I pushed her for information, and she revealed that Saturday morning when she woke up, she found a lump the size of two cherries on her breast - something she didn't want me to tell anyone else.
Because of that, she decided not to take her flight to North Carolina, and instead stayed in PA, and had it looked at. She wasn't able to see the doctor of her choice, but a nurse practitioner told her, "breast cancer doesn't usually present itself this way."
In the end, she decided she wanted me and my brother to drive to PA, pick her up, then drive her to NC (and potentially stay with her until school starts for me)- because she doesn't want to be alone (or something like that).
My mom and I have had issues before, and I take anything she says with a huge grain of salt. My dad is a doctor and says, "She doesn't have and family history of breast cancer, didn't have children late in life nor did she take estrogen supplements - I highly doubt it's breast cancer." A quick web search reveals that there is an 80% chance that it's not.
What should I do?
posted by dkleinst to Human Relations (45 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The bottom line here is that your mom is scared and wants your company. You need to decide if you want to be there for her or not.
posted by iconomy at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2007 [8 favorites]

80% chance it's not? That's still a 20% chance it is. IAACR (I Am A Cancer Researcher), and you know what, sometimes people just get breast cancer, regardless of when they had children (or didn't), regardless of HRT (or lack thereof), regardless of family history (and so on). Seeing as your Dad's a doc, I'm sure he knows what the word idiopathic means. If it was my mother, even if I didn't think it was cancer, even though I live 5000 miles away, I'd be there. Sounds like your issue with your mother has very little to do with cancer.
posted by methylsalicylate at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2007 [5 favorites]

Do whats best for you. Its perfectly ok to say no to your parents. Medical evidence is heavily on the Parnoia side, vs a real cause for concern. Shes with friends, so she can get support. Also, shes a big girl.
posted by Jacen at 10:12 AM on August 7, 2007

20% isn't that small. The health care workers involved seem to assert that it's probably not cancer, but your mom could be very scared anyway. It seems (IANAD) that the prudent thing to do would be to get an second opinion and whatever lab results (biopsy?) would confirm not cancer.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2007

I don't know what I would say if you were financially independent, but if your mom is paying (in whole or part) for your and your brother's eduction, you should do what she requests.
posted by spec80 at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2007

...and how are you going to feel if it IS breast cancer?

I'm not sure what algorithm you are using to calculate her cancer risk. They don't have all the causes and risk factors for cancer mapped out with any precision.

Even if she does have just a 20% shot at what sounds like advanced disease, that's a 1 in 5 chance your being an ass with a woman who is vulnerable, scared, and alone. Actually, she's vulnerable, scared, and alone whether or not she has cancer.

Why do you (and your dad) think she's playing with you?
posted by bluenausea at 10:19 AM on August 7, 2007

"She doesn't have and family history of breast cancer, didn't have children late in life nor did she take estrogen supplements - I highly doubt it's breast cancer."

Those are far from the only indicators of breast cancer. There's a ton of genetics beneath the surface which aren't always evident through readily available means. It can always be case of, "I have lung cancer, yet never smoked in my life." Cancer is a freaky thing and doesn't exactly follow what we think- if it did, cancer wouldn't be such a big issue.

This also isn't about who is right and who is wrong. My first thought was iconomy's response. It's not about you getting what you want, but making a choice to show empathy towards your mom.
posted by jmd82 at 10:19 AM on August 7, 2007

The nurse practioner didn't schedule your mom for a mammogram? She just shrugged it off? Get a second opinion, pronto! When I took my mom for her radiation treatments, the waiting room was full of women who didn't fit the standard profile for breast cancer.

I'm not saying you have to stay with her until school starts, but would it be a whole lot of trouble for you to schedule an appointment in NC for a mammogram and an exam with a doctor? Preferably one who specializes in women's health? At least your mom will have peace of mind (and perhaps not feel so 'alone' when you leave) if they look at the film, then do a needle biopsy and decide it's just a cyst.

Even drama queens and chronic complainers sometimes get dread diseases. I really don't like the way everyone is so ready to write off her symptoms. I'm wondering if your dad the doctor found a cherry-sized lump in his scrotum, would he just look at the statistics, see that he doesn't fit the profile for testicular cancer and walk away whistling a happy tune?
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2007

There is an apparent reason - she is obviously freaked and wants you there and needs to get home. She was so freaked out that instead of waiting a day to go home and have it looked at, she skipped her flight and went to see someone in PA. Now she's still shaken, doesn't have any answers, and has no easy way of getting home. If I were you, I would do it. My mother would do this for me, and I would do it for her. But that's us.

Also, I think saying, "I'm not done visiting my grandparents" is much more selfish than your mom having a cancer scare and wanting you there for reassurance, or whatever. What do your grandparents say? I think most people would understand your need to cut the visit short in these circumstances.

Regardless, you know your mom better than us. So I can tell you what I would do, or what I think you should do, but I can't tell from here if she's being legit or not. That's your call.
posted by ml98tu at 10:25 AM on August 7, 2007

Is there any way you can compromise? Can she go back alone and then you come in time for her biopsy? Can you make sure she has some sort of support system in place until you get there? Plan to call her every evening to offer support? Maybe either you or your brother could go back with her, and then you could switch after a few days or a week?

I think there are two imperatives here, and they're both important. The first is that you show some empathy for your mother and support her at a time when she's justifiably scared. She's not being "paranoid": she has a scary symptom that will probably not turn out to be breast cancer but that would, I think, alarm pretty much anyone. There's a difference between being a hypochondriac and freaking out about something that is statistically likely not to be a big deal.

But the second imperative is to work out some boundaries that will work for you and your mother as you make the transition into adulthood. This is not the last medical emergency she is likely to have. Unless we are very unlucky, we will all have to deal with aging parents, and it's usually not possible to drop everything every time one's parent has a medical issue. You need to establish a pattern that will work for you in the future, and it needs to be one that both acknowledges your responsibilities towards you mother and encourages her to acknowledge that you have other priorities and responsibilities as well.

So I would tell her that you can't do what she wants but that you'd like to work out some other way that you can support her.
posted by craichead at 10:33 AM on August 7, 2007

seconding iconomy. this is one of those situations where reality is irrelevant--she needs comfort until all the facts are in. up to you what to do.

i have manipulative-parent issues too--in this case, i'd probably go ahead and go up to meet her. worry about the rest of the summer later. i just think it never hurts to take the high road here.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

As other posters have said, this is not about cancer. You sound really angry at your mom. You also sound like you are in college. It is normal for college aged children to be trying to separate themselves from their parents, and to be resentful and angry when their parents make demands on them.

My mom had breast cancer when I was your age and needed a lot of support, so I understand. But this is not about cancer. This about your mom needing you and you feeling resentful and infringed upon. You need to decide if pushing back on her at this moment in time is the right time. You don't have to do everything she wants. Fortunately, you have a sibling and you can trade off taking care of your mom: You can go up, get her, arrange her doctor's appointments, go to a few with her, and then go back to your grandparents. You can get her, arrange some doctor's appointment and have your brother pick it up from there and you go back to your grandparents. Alternatively, your brother can run with the ball, while you stay with the grandparents and then switch off later.

I know you feel that your mother is being unreasonably needy and clingy, but you are who she has to turn to in moments of stress. Being an adult is learning when you can focus on yourself and when you have to take care of your family, and take responsibility; growing up is about the balance. Good luck!
posted by zia at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2007 [5 favorites]

In her late 40's, my own drama queen mother, who had no history of breast cancer in her family, was a non-smoker, never took any form of estrogen, had her children early in life...found a lump in her breast. It turned out to be stage III breast cancer.

Despite having a complicated relationship with my mother, I actually relocated to be closer to her. She went through a double mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy, each surgery and treatment causing her horrendous side effects and complications.

She's been cancer-free for 8 years now. We still don't have an ideal relationship. I do not regret my decision to move closer to her. She would have done the same for me.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

you don't sound like you want to go, so don't. don't look for rationalizations here.
posted by matteo at 10:42 AM on August 7, 2007

I guess I should have explained some of the issues surrounding my mom more clearly. My mom and I are on fairly good terms now, but have not had the best relationship. She kicked me out of the house when I was in 12th grade, and I was forced to move in with a friend. In general, I think of her as a "bad person."

Trust me, if my dad (or for that matter almost anyone else in my family) had said something like this, I would be there immediately.

She has said things like this in the past - simply because she wants to spend time with me and my brother - or deprive my dad and my grandparents from doing the same. I have a particularly vivid memory of fleeing through the woods at my mom's demand just to prevent my dad from taking us on vacation.
posted by dkleinst at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2007

I dunno. Mom is an adult. At this point all of the things she can do to get this looked at are things she can do perfectly easily on her own. You don't have to be cold about it; let her know you'll help her as much as possible as soon as you get back.

If it turns out to be nothing much, do you really want to have set the kind of precedent that all she needs to do is invent problems to get hysterical in order to bring you running?
posted by hermitosis at 10:47 AM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

My sister is as manipulative as hell, but I'd go with her to the doctor if she found a lump somewhere. Just take her to the doctor and bring her back if they think it's nothing to worry about. Even people with issues get scared sometimes.
posted by christinetheslp at 10:50 AM on August 7, 2007

I have been in your position. I chose to not go back.

I regret this immensely.
posted by rtha at 10:54 AM on August 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

The poster stated that he DOES intend to go back, just not quite yet. If mom finds out anything dire, there is always to opportunity to rush to her side. But given that mom is a little wacky and a lot manipulative, it's probably best to call her bluff initially until more details are known.
posted by hermitosis at 11:02 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

My mom says she has cancer. I don't buy it.

Don't go see her. She's looking for support - she doesn't need people calling her a liar or a hypochondriac.
posted by 26.2 at 11:15 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do you want medical evidence not to go back, or do you want someone to tell you that it is ok not to go back? The "in light of" bit seems a bit odd. Are you looking for someone to give you back up on what your father said about the chances, or looking for someone to tell you your mother is a drama queen? I don't know your situation, I don't know your mother. If I were in what I think your situation may be (mom wants/demands) attention, I would have a frank conversation with her to find out what is going on. That said, I don't know your history with her, maybe you've done that before. Have you told her "I take anything you say with a grain of salt for reasons X, Y & Z"? That is likely a good place to start.
posted by kellyblah at 11:16 AM on August 7, 2007

Your mom found a lump in her breast. It's not known whether she has cancer. She needs to see a doctor. This means an appointment at a medical facility, not your dad's armchair diagnoses. If it is cancer, she will need to have a doctor where she lives involved, or move in with her friend. If it was my mom, I would talk her through this and fly out if she were having surgery or if the situation was more serious.
posted by yohko at 11:27 AM on August 7, 2007

My dad is a doctor and says, "She doesn't have and family history of breast cancer, didn't have children late in life nor did she take estrogen supplements - I highly doubt it's breast cancer." A quick web search reveals that there is an 80% chance that it's not.

Nthing that this does not mean that she does not have breast cancer. Wow. I'm guessing that your dad's not an oncologist. And what on earth web search did you conduct? /i work in program admin for a cancer-related non-profit. IANAD, but i know something about risk factors.

Was she examined by the nurse practitioner? If so, her opinion is a bit more valid, but it sounds like you're missing part of the story -- if the lumps were dismissed as not cancer by the practitioner, what did she think they actually are?
posted by desuetude at 11:34 AM on August 7, 2007

Someone who finds a lump the size of two cherries and is being brushed off by her health care provider and her physician (?) husband is justifiably freaked out, prior drama not withstanding.

She's looking for someone, anyone to understand. How about that be you this time?
posted by sageleaf at 11:36 AM on August 7, 2007

if your mom found a lump, it may or may not be cancer but she won't know until she's had a biopsy. if she's scared, that's understandable and expected, but she needs to figure out what it is. i'm not the typical profile of a breast cancer patient even with family history- 25, never smoked, vegan, healthy- but i still had it. even though the nurses and doctors acted like it was probably nothing (and statistically they were right) they still had me get a biopsy just to be sure.

your mom may be manipulative and trying to emotionally blackmail you, but that doesn't mean you have to be completely removed from the situation. you don't have to rush to her, but be supportive as you can until she gets everything checked out. she needs to get it checked out. as people have mentioned- if it is cancer, waiting for a diagnosis is a bad idea. in chemo i've met lots of women who waited and are having a much harder fight because of it.
posted by kendrak at 11:37 AM on August 7, 2007

I think the poster knows his mom better than we do.

From perusing the original post it seems this woman is milking the situation for attention-most of us actually go and get an actual diagnosis before freaking out. As a mom the LAST thing I would want to do is mess with my children's plans unless truly necessary.

This woman is an adult and can act like one. Tell her to reschedule her flight and you will meet her in NC when your visit is done and/or bad biopsy results come back.
posted by konolia at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2007

What iconomy said.
posted by Specklet at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2007

I think I can understand your point of view somewhat; someone in my family actually does fabricate emergencies, medical and otherwise. If your mother has a history of crying wolf, you'd naturally be skeptical. But I think you need to keep from voicing your suspicions to her, because talking about them will either burden her or fuel the drama, as the case may be.

Here is what someone in your position would do if she wanted to help but really couldn't be there: Tell her you know that finding a lump must be terribly frightening; that even though she's worried, she needs to get a mammogram now. Ask if she wants you to call the doctor or make an appointment for her. Speak with your mother's friend and get her account of how Mom is doing emotionally.

Even though you and your mother have issues, you need to do the right thing -- which is to press her to follow up and find out what those lumps are, and also to check in with her as she goes through the steps of finding out.

Now, from a different angle. Enumerate the various configurations:
-She's genuinely worried and the lumps are benign;
-She's genuinely worried and the lumps are malignant;
-She's making the whole thing up and playing you.
And for you:
-You go right away
-You express concern and tell her to get a mammogram and see a specialist, and travel if she gets bad news.
-You tell her you have serious doubts and she's used up all your good will. (I recommend against this one.)

In any of her scenarios, you win if you go, and you do no harm if you support her from a distance. If you go to her now and she learns with relief that she's cancer-free, you still did the right thing. If you go and find out she's faking, you've sacrificed three weeks of your vacation but (and here's the cynicism that comes from my experience) she loses bigtime as a result of her manipulative behavior. You still win.

You and your brother know your mother -- what help would she actually need if she's legitimately scared about possibly having cancer? Can she manage to get the exams she needs right away on her own? Is it going to be extremely difficult for her to do it alone?
posted by wryly at 11:50 AM on August 7, 2007

most of us actually go and get an actual diagnosis before freaking out.
Really? I'll admit that I felt like puking for the entire week between when I heard the words "brain cancer" and when my MRI came back negative. I think that the mere prospect of cancer is enough to make most people freak out at least a bit.
posted by craichead at 12:03 PM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

My first thought is: Oh come on. This kind of reminds me of that time a while back when joshuak's parents gave him a free car and he asked us how to convince them to give him a better one.

Yeah, you and your mother have issues. Clearly you don't trust her. You don't give us clear reasons why, but I believe you when you say there are problems there. Maybe this is in part because of resentment issues stemming from the divorce, or because you don't know which parent to believe about anything anymore. Maybe you chose a side (your father's) and stuck with it—and over time made decisions that helped you come to grips with having chosen at side at all. (Cognitive dissonance at work.) Maybe she was emotionally abusive to you, or overly demanding of you during the divorce process, or maybe you feel like she abandoned you, or maybe she's just a bitch.

And apparently you're having a grand old time at your grandparents' place, and in a few weeks, you'll have to go back to school.

But you know what? All of that's bullshit. 'Cause she called you. Despite the fact that you two have [probably long-standing] issues, she's scared and she's reaching out to you, her son, for help. Manipulation or not, if what she's described is a tumor, it's a pretty big one, and if she has cancer, that's going to change a lot of things in your life, whether you want it to or not.

You think you're the only one aware that you two aren't best pals? These are two-sided things, and she surely knows she's not always (or maybe never was!) your favorite parent. I've been there, am currently there, with my own father. But you know...there comes a time when you have to just get over it, because all the fantasizing in the world doesn't change the fact that you're related to her.

Cutting her off by ignoring her needs right now (or by not helping her get the treatment she needs) is not the way to go. Sure, she's an adult. She'll be able to get home and get treatment whether you're there or not. But to ignore this is to ignore an opportunity she's giving you, whether you recognize it as such or not.

See, she's what you've got. Someday, you're probably going to want to get married, have kids, have your kids get to know their living relatives, etc. You may need to borrow money, if you fall into hard times or want to buy a car without going through years of payments/interest. You may be without health insurance for a while after college (it happens to a lot of us) and need a fallback plan for when you get sick. You may want to research your genetics or your family tree, to find out about illnesses that run in the family or what makes you tick the way you do or what makes your kids tick the way they do. Your mother may have a heritable mental illness—maybe she's crazy or difficult now, but perhaps she wasn't always. You may be next in line to develop symptoms. You may want to know what she's allergic to, if you develop weird allergies or reactions sometime down the line. You may want someone to help babysit your kids, if your wife/partner falls ill or leaves or dies. You may simply hope to inherit just a small piece of what your parents have. You and your father (or you and your brother may have a falling out.

These things happen. And they're just a few of the reasons you might want to take your mother seriously and start acting like an adult now. I don't see any real reasons here not to go—especially because you're in a position to do something about this now, and you won't be in a few weeks.

Whether your parents divorced a year, five years, or 15 years ago, they're still both part of what makes you who you are. You can harbor distrust all you want, and you may well be justified in doing so. You can mentally take it all with a grain of salt if that makes you feel better. But here's the thing: if you do this now, if you keep her in your life, maybe at some point down the road you'll wake up and realize you're actually able to articulate to her just how hurt and screwed up the entire process of growing up made you feel, and how she was a part of that—and then you'll both be able to move on.

But if you cut her off right now—well, you may be throwing away your chance at reconciling the past with the present and becoming a stronger, more complete individual. An adult, in other words. Ask yourself: Is it worth that?
posted by limeonaire at 12:05 PM on August 7, 2007 [5 favorites]

most of us actually go and get an actual diagnosis before freaking out.

Really? I'll admit that I felt like puking for the entire week between when I heard the words "brain cancer" and when my MRI came back negative. I think that the mere prospect of cancer is enough to make most people freak out at least a bit.

Seconded. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown in the weeks between the gyn appointment and the "just in case" ultrasound. I'm not ashamed to admit that I went home and cried my eyes out in relief when I was told that I was all clear.

Meanwhile, people live with (often painful, often textbook) symptoms for years before mustering up the courage to get checked out. That's how freaked out a lot of people are before a diagnosis of cancer.

dkleinist, consider this: What if you run up there? What if she's crying wolf? What have you actually sacrificed, worst-case scenario? A month of summer vacation, possibly. And what do your grandparents think about all of this?
posted by desuetude at 12:32 PM on August 7, 2007

What have you actually sacrificed, worst-case scenario?
Time with people close to him whom he cares about more and whom he trusts more. The respect that you lose from the scam artist when you’re taken for a ride.

I don’t know your mother, dkleinst; as you describe her she sounds worse than mine, and I don’t really trust mine not to be manipulative or to have ill-thought-out and vaguely rotten motivations. With my own mother in your situation I would call her at least daily and actually leave father and grandparents when you’ve called her doctor after the test results come in positive (if they come in positive), and checked what you should do once you get to her.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 12:56 PM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's a no-win, I'm afraid. I had a family member declare herself to be dying of breast cancer to the entire family -- on Christmas Day. Given that half the family is prone to trying to out-drama each other, suspicions were high... but nobody had ever raised the bar for drama THAT high before, so everyone played along just long enough to confirm it was bunk. Predictably, it was what we'd thought it was.

And seeing the glaring success of the ploy made the "I'm ill/dying and nobody cares" game the new attention-grabber of choice family-wide. It got pulled enough times that when someone actually was serious, everyone was so burned out on the idea that only I and one other family member even visited before he died. Regrets and guilt were widespread.

Basically, it probably is exactly what you think it is. But unless you're prepared to be wrong and live with it, you'd best play along.
posted by Pufferish at 1:16 PM on August 7, 2007

Keep in mind, too, that no responsible medical professional is going to just feel the lump and announce "Yep, you're right, that's cancer!" Even when they're pretty damned sure it feels like cancer, they try to alleviate the patient's anxieties, point out the odds that it's not cancer, and wait until test results give more conclusive basis for diagnosis and prognosis. So the mere fact that a PA spouted typical "it's probably not..." noises should not be mistaken for a diagnosis.

Your mother is pretty freaked out by now (leaving aside any judgement of whether it's validly so), and may have misunderstood what she was told. When the doctor first told me some upsetting news, my head immediately filled with so many fears, questions, and doubts that I missed much of what she said and had a hard time assimilating the rest. Someone going into the exam room in that state could easily leave with a mangled and incomplete understanding of what was discussed.

So one way you could help your family (NOT JUST HER) from afar is by seeking clarification first. Call the medical office. Speak to the PA in question, or the PA's supervising physician. What followup are they recommending? If no tests, why? If testing, how to schedule those.

This also should sort out whether her word should be doubted here. Either she's lying about the lump(s), so cannot allow you to talk to anyone who can't back up her claim. Or she does have some unknown lump in her breast, does need support, and thus willingly gives you the contact info and (if required) signs the clinic's form that says it's okay to discuss the matter with you.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:29 PM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

The fact that she is telling you you're not supposed to tell anyone is kind of weird. Why are you supposed to keep secrets for her?
posted by citron at 1:31 PM on August 7, 2007

The fact that she is telling you you're not supposed to tell anyone is kind of weird. Why are you supposed to keep secrets for her?

Yeah, that does raise a question for me: Are you supposed to tell your brother why you're going?
posted by limeonaire at 2:10 PM on August 7, 2007

Yeah, that does raise a question for me: Are you supposed to tell your brother why you're going?

No, I wasn't supposed to tell him. I did.
posted by dkleinst at 2:45 PM on August 7, 2007

Instinctively I want to agree with konolia. With my own parents, I had to pry information about their medical condition out by tooth and nail. They just "didn't want to trouble the kids." I didn't find out about my Dad's prostate cancer until quite some time after he'd started radiation therapy. It's an extreme case, but great parents focus on their kids, rather than trying to get their kids to focus on them.

On the other hand, you say you're in West Virginia right now. You're mom's in Pennsylvania. Are you really that far away? Isn't it just a few hours' drive at most? If it was me, I'd call the nurse-practitioner and try to get the facts straight, and then I'd go pick up mom and make sure she gets calmed down and gets home o.k. But I wouldn't stand for any nonsense, either.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:55 PM on August 7, 2007

What have you actually sacrificed, worst-case scenario?

Time with people close to him whom he cares about more and whom he trusts more. The respect that you lose from the scam artist when you’re taken for a ride.

I agree with Aidan Kehoe on this.

Your grandparents are much more likely to depart this earth sooner than your mother, and she's repeatedly tried (and too often succeeded) to deprive you of time with them. Neither she nor you know whether it's cancer or not at this point, but in the meantime she's milking it for all it's worth. Don't be a sucker. Wait till she has proof that it's cancer before you go running to her side. You can support her from afar via telephone till the results are in.

The idea that you will be oh-so-very-sorry if it really turns out to be cancer -- well, only you can say for certain, but from the sounds of things, I doubt it. The notion that everyone who doesn't patch things up with their parents before they die isn't true: my father died six years ago when we hadn't been on speaking terms for eight years. I felt relieved that he was finally dead, and have never regretted not "patching things up" with him, because he was an asshole, plain and simple. YMMV, of course.

I'll leave you with this thought that I read somewhere: "You know why your parents can push your buttons so easily? Because they installed them!"
posted by Marla Singer at 3:05 PM on August 7, 2007

This sounds like something very similar that happened to me a few years ago. My drama queen uncle called crying in the middle of the night and told me that he had pancreatic cancer. He said that he had a biopsy and it was confirmed that it was pancreatic cancer. Well guess what? It wasn't and he had never had a biopsy. Pancreatic cancer has a very, very small chance of survival. Here it is over 5 years later and he's alive and kicking with no cancer. I have no idea why people lie like that. But if this is what your mom is doing, I feel your pain believe me. Either way, I hope your mom is ok and cancer free.
posted by GlowWyrm at 3:25 PM on August 7, 2007

"She doesn't have and family history of breast cancer, didn't have children late in life nor did she take estrogen supplements"

Nor did my mum. She didn't even have a lump. Initally doctors thought it was an infection. Turned out to be advanced breast cancer.

If you're googling around to find statistics to convince you that she's lying, nay, if you're asking a bunch of strangers on the internet whether you should be there for your mother right now, then I think you've already made up your mind.
posted by liquorice at 4:17 PM on August 7, 2007

Wow. I'm completely against the grain I am on this one.

It sounds like you're just learning how to stand up to your mom, and now she has upped the ante beyond what you were ready to say "no" to. And you want some support for continuing to set boundaries with her? Count me in.

You do not have to rush to her side -- you can define how and when you want to support her in a way that also works for you, or you could decide not to help. Just because she believes she's having a crisis does not mean that you need to stop living your own life and live solely to service her panic. Maybe she is testing you, or maybe this really is the biggest crisis of her life, but she is an adult. She can take care of herself, and she can find other support besides you. She can recognize you have other obligations that mean sometimes you won't always be able to immediately drop everything.

I'm not saying "don't go" -- I'm saying, "do what you want to do, deep down." You have a manipulative mom and a dad who thinks she's crazy, but see if you can ignore that noise and look inside yourself and see what feels most right to do. You can go now, you can go in a few days, you can promise to just call her every day, you can tell her she makes your life insane and you want her not to call you again, you can pay for a limo to drive her to North Carolina, you could ask your brother to go instead...

Personally, I'd go with wryly's description of how to kindly coach her through the steps that need to happen until you either feel more like going or until you know what's really going on. Show concern, but her problem doesn't need to immediately be your problem -- she can do it herself. You don't even have to debate whether or not you're coming back, just say you can't, sorry, but you just can't. ("I'd be so amazingly angry if this turns out to be a trick, and I'm not willing to take that risk" actually counts as a reason that makes it impossible for you to go, perhaps a reason that is "too complicated to explain.") But you should ignore me, too, and do what feels right to you.
posted by salvia at 4:35 PM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I say that as someone who almost got tricked into driving to Los Angeles between the hours of 1 AM and 6:30 AM to help someone theoretically dying of cancer, potentially even dying that night, in a story that turned out to be verifiably false. Am I ever glad that I said I couldn't drive at night and would have to leave the next morning. Waiting meant the situation shifted just enough for me to find out how untrue it all was. (I've also dropped everything to make cross-country trips for people, so I support making that decision on a case-by-case basis.)
posted by salvia at 4:40 PM on August 7, 2007

And dkleinst—I know that was a long quasi-rant from me.

Here's where it comes from: I come down so strongly about what you should do perhaps because even now, a year out of college, I'm still having trouble doing exactly what I'm telling you to do. The difference is, I've lived on my own for more than a year, I've successfully established myself as a personage apart from my parents, with complete financial autonomy, and I'm trying now to establish a more adult relationship with them.

I'll probably never truly trust my father, 'cause he's really just crazy in a lot of ways, and he put my entire family through a lot of shit while my brother and I were growing up. My mother just divorced him this year after years of putting up with his crap, and I applaud her for that.

But the things my boyfriend has told me about his own mother's battle with cancer (and the emotional scars it's left on him to this day), as well as about his parents' divorce, have taught me a lot about the importance of being close to family while you still can, regardless of whether you have extreme difficulty (as I do, and as he has had) trusting them.

His parents divorced when he was very young, and then proceeded to drag the accompanying emotional baggage around, bad-mouthing each other and asking the kids to spy on each other and generally doing everything you're not supposed to do, for pretty much his entire childhood and adolescence.

It was terrible for him, and he didn't speak to his father for years following all of this—but then at some point, enough time had gone by, he had gotten older and wiser, and he opened up the lines of communication again. He learned to talk frankly with his father about what he feels and thinks and what he was put through—and now they can just talk, man to man, even if they don't always agree on things or trust each other. He can ask for advice, or for aid.

To me, that view of family, as these people you share genetics and tendencies and history with, regardless of whether you want to or not, is comfortingly solid.

So following my boyfriend's example, I've begun talking to my father again from time to time, and I'm finding there's still a lot to be learned just from talking to him sometimes, even if I can't help but pull away and ignore him at other times. I have a life, but, well, I also have a family, even if it's in some ways an irrevocably screwed up one.

It's a difficult thing to do, learning to relate to one's parents as people, rather than these unassailable forces in our lives that they are for so long as we grow up. But relating to them is a process that's worth starting, I think, for any of the myriad reasons I listed above.
posted by limeonaire at 10:35 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have two friends whose past relationships with one parent or another makes it very difficult for them to relate. I will never criticize anyone's decision to speak to or support a parent who has been manipulative or mentally abusive. Perhaps to ease your own mind, you can talk her into seeing an OBGYN where she is...even make an appointment for her if that would make her (and you) feel better. Keep in touch throughout the process of getting a second opinion, but encourage her to do so. My mother has had breast cancer twice, and her mother once....both survived. But she really must be encouraged to see a doctor and not a nurse practitioner.

Best of luck to all of you.
posted by Womanscientist at 9:09 PM on August 8, 2007

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