When It’s The Patient Who Pushes People Away

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Recently, I responded to a complaint from a PC patient who felt that many of his friends had abandoned him after he was diagnosed with cancer.   (Read the last two postings.)  But there are also patients who push others away, and in my opinion, add to the stigma of cancer in the process.

Here is a story about this that’s really hit close to home.

My sister told me two weeks ago that her husband, Jack, has a life-threatening illness, but she wouldn’t say more than that. Said he had sworn her to secrecy. Apparently my brother-in-law (“BIL”) has been sick for a few months and they only just told the kids. I know it’s cancer because sis said that  BIL is “in remission”.

I explained to my sister that I’ve been researching cancer for two years so maybe I could help her in some way. She replied, “No, it’s not necessary”. Very fatalistic.  Then I tried to comfort sis by telling her not to let the c-word get to her, that it no longer intimidates me (a bit exaggerated).  It can be tamed.  No reaction. Finally, I asked if I could send Jack a card.  She said, “No, I’ve already said too much”.  My brother was allowed to visit last Sunday and he called me immediately to say that Jack couldn’t talk at all — only “grunt”.   And my mother was told there’s something wrong with his neck. So you try to put 2 and 2 together.  Throat cancer, maybe?  It’s like a game of “20 Questions”.

This is the case of a *patient* stigmatizing the cancer and himself by not allowing anybody in.

I must say that I’ve been somewhat close with my sister but relationships in the family have frayed because we are all stressed out to the max because of caring for my elderly mother in the last four years. My sister used to be a very normal, serene person, but as I told husb recently, now she only snaps and barks.

Every since I heard the news about my BIL  I’ve been walking around with a sickly, leaden feeling. I feel sorry for him and sis he is young and they have five wonderful kids. But all told, I feel under the circumstances my sister should have told me *all the details* or *kept her mouth shut*.  Husb agrees.

My BIL is a cold fish and a very reserved person, but this somehow feels like a dis,  it’s as if he’s implying he has no use for his wife’s family, so why tell them at all.  And can you imagine what a burden it is for my sister to keep such a secret?  That’s unfair. Finally there’s the fact that my own husb has had two cancers plus a recurrence, and of course my sister knows this. So does she think she’s making me feel good by talking about cancer in hushed and ominous tones when I have tried so hard (and succeeded to some extent) to move past that? Incidentally, my sister has tried to help but has been very cancer-phobic throughout (my) husb’s illness.

Being ignorant, I can only hope for the best.

By | 2017-10-19T10:57:10+00:00 August 21st, 2008|Healing the Mind, People, Families and Grieving|1 Comment

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  1. Jerry Perisho August 22, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Leah,
    I continue to be amazed at your insightful and informative comments. Thank you so much for them.

    So many times I have seen a cancer patient clam up and refuse to discuss his illness, refuse to allow loved ones and friends to visit and talk, and refuse to be educated and address the illness aggressively. That fatalistic behavior can be deadly. The simple fact of the matter is that we are all going to die some time. The challenge is to make the most of whatever time we have. For the patient diagnosed with cancer, fatalistically adopting a position of paralysis is unfair to loved ones, to say nothing of unfair to the patient himself.

    I am sorry that you are facing that terrible reality. Please find comfort in knowing that you have offered assistance and expertise. If the offer has been refused, you have little choice but to love your family through the tough times that lie ahead.

    Jerry P.

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