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Daughter torn between cancer mom and husband abroad

Posts: 7
Joined: Dec 2012

Hi all,

  I'm new to this site and I'm really new at telling people about my problems... but here goes! (I apologize for the lengthy post. I wanted to be as concise as possible but it's a really long story to begin with)

My husband and I were working as researchers in Korea. We were in our third month there (two months into our official marriage) when I got the news. My mother has cancer. That news was enough for me to book the first flight back home (California) to be with her. We (my husband and I) thought we'd be in for a long battle, so I could go to and fro Korea to California and stay with her more permanently as that time would come along.

I arrive in California to make appointments with doctors, talk to her insurance provider, make sure everything concerning her health care benefits, life insurance policies, trust/will/health care directives, etc are all in order to the best of my ability. She took a turn for the bad and we took her to Stanford because of the pain she was going through. They did emergency testing (these tests were waiting insurance approval) which revealed conflicting results. Two MRIs, two CTs, an endoscopy, a paracentisis, and a biopsy (along with a lot of bloodwork) revealed differing diagnosis. They ended up diagnosing her with unknown primary cancer. Unfortunately, they didn't do a whole lot for her pain and vomiting but still released her after a week.

You can imagine that I was a mess during her stay at the hospital. An ER doctor thought she would only have a few weeks to a month left. I snapped and confided in my husband. After hearing the news, he also booked the next flight back to help take care of my mom as well as me. Unfortunately, he was only able to stay for two weeks before his work called him back.

We (my husband and I) soon realized that this wasn't as long of a fight as we had imagined, and I realized that I was needed here. My round-trip flight has turned into a one way ticket and I have been tending to my mom since. This has put a tremendous strain on our new and 'budding' marriage. I don't think he completely understands why I have to be here (I have family that can help care for her), or why I have to put my career and marriage on hold because of this. I want to tell him that I need to be here for my mom but also for myself. I can't stand the thought of not being here for the one person I love unconditionally (parents divorced when I was young). I'm also the most capable person in my family to handle the paperwork and stresses of juggling everything that comes with cancer and treatment. I want to tell him that I can go back to work later, and that no employer in their right mind (or with half a heart) would resent me for doing what I am doing. And I want to tell him that this IS the biggest obstacle our relationship/marriage will ever face, that there are no do-overs, and that if we can get through this together, there's just no stopping us. But, I can't. Or, at least, I don't think the words are coming out right.

After being discharged from Stanford, my mother had a terrible week. She was unable to eat, drink, or make bowel movements. Anything she tried to swallow would come back up within the hour. We took her to an oncologist to finally discuss her options. He reviewed her case and took one look at her before telling us we needed to check into a hospital. The oncologist said given her current condition... days.

So we did check her into another hospital. They took good care of her and was able to convince her to do a round of chemo. It seemed to have worked! She was discharged after a week at this hospital with her pain and nausea under control. Soon, she was back on her feet and broke her 3 week record and made her first bowel movement.

That's great for my mom, and I'm really excited about it... but... it doesn't look like I can share the news to my husband anymore. He's grown distant and unresponsive. He used to share his everyday activities with me, but that's past tense. I've tried to start conversations with him, but he's gone cold and quiet. I eventually confronted him about it and his response... talking to me doesn't make him feel any closer and it just reminds him that we're far apart, and that he'd rather spend that time working hard now so that he could spend more time with me when I'm reunited with him. What he says makes sense, but it still hurts nonetheless. This is the most difficult time I'll ever go through, and although I have the support of family, friends and support groups, my husband really is the person I want to come running to for support.

After a few more exchanges, he's decided that we shouldn't talk for now and pick up where we left off when I come back to Korea. I'm devastated. I don't understand why this happened, why he could just ignore me to deal with this on my own, why things just took a turn for the terrible so fast.

My mother's condition is still stable for now. Another visit to the oncologist this past week revealed more information. It's still cancer of unknown primary, but now we know that it's spread to the lymph nodes, liver, peritoneum, omentum, etc. The oncologist suggested that her chemo is the reason she's still here today, but the aggressive cancer will come back and continue to eat away at her. There is no cure. His chemo treatment is suggested to extend her time, but realistically, no more than four months.

My mother is scared. She's 51 this year and hasn't lived a full life. She hasn't seen her youngest daughter graduate from high school, she hasn't seen grandchildren crawling around on her living room floor, and she hasn't taken a peaceful vacation; ever. She's scared because she doesn't know what happens after she dies; and I don't know what to tell her.

I can only be one place at one time. I can be the daughter holding a bucket to my mom's head as she vomits. I can be the person that holds my husband's hand while he's stuck in the hospital with food poisoning. I can be the sister that takes my little sister shopping to get her mind off of things. But I can't do it all at the same time.

As my subject line suggests, I'm torn. I know I left my husband completely alone in a foreign country. I know I broke our travel plans to go from one destination to the next. But I also know my mother is dying. I know there is no cure and there is a limited amount of time left.

How can I possibly feel better about anything right now? Sometimes, I get really frustrated at how my husband ends up giving me the silent treatment or tells me that I have family and friends around to confide in instead of him. Why does he respond the way he does? Does he know he's actively hurting me? Have I done anything to him that would drive him away when I need him the most? What's left in a long distance relationship if we don't talk to each other? What can I tell my mom about death (what happens to her when she dies)? I don't think there's any simple answer for the problems I'm facing, but if there is, I believe this would be the place I could find it.


Thanks for reading!

Posts: 683
Joined: Apr 2010

AS YOU may well know, people today grow old, get sick, and die. Even some children die. Should you be afraid of death or of anybody who has died?— Do you know what happens if we die?—

Well, nobody living today has been dead and come back to life to tell us about it. But when Jesus, the Great Teacher, was on earth, there was such a man. We can learn about what happens to those who die by reading about him. The man was a friend of Jesus and lived in Bethany, a small town not far from Jerusalem. His name was Lazarus, and he had two sisters, named Martha and Mary. Let’s see what the Bible says happened.

One day Lazarus gets very sick. At the time, Jesus is far away. So Martha and Mary send a messenger to tell Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, is sick. They do this because they know that Jesus can come and make their brother well. Jesus is not a doctor, but he has power from God so that he can cure every kind of sickness.—Matthew 15:30, 31.

Before Jesus goes to see Lazarus, however, Lazarus gets so sick that he dies. But Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus is sleeping and that He will go to wake him up. The disciples do not understand what Jesus means. So Jesus says plainly: “Lazarus has died.” What does this show about death?— Yes, that it is like a deep sleep. It is a sleep so deep that the person does not even dream.

Jesus is now coming to visit Martha and Mary. Many friends of the family have already arrived. They have come to comfort the sisters because their brother has died. When Martha hears that Jesus is coming, she goes to meet him. Soon Mary also goes out to see Jesus. She is very sad and is crying, and she falls at his feet. Other friends who have followed Mary are also crying.

The Great Teacher asks where they have put Lazarus. At that, the people lead Jesus to the cave where Lazarus has been buried. When Jesus sees all the people crying, he starts to cry too. He knows how painful it is to lose a loved one in death.

A stone is in front of the cave, so Jesus says: “Take the stone away.” Should they do it?— Martha does not think it is a good idea. She says: “Lord, by now he must smell, for it is four days.”

But Jesus says to her: “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Jesus means that Martha would see something that would bring honor to God. What is Jesus going to do? When the stone is removed, Jesus prays out loud to Jehovah. Then Jesus says in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come on out!” Would he come out? Could he?—

Well, can you wake up somebody who is sleeping?— Yes, if you call in a loud voice, he will wake up. But can you wake up someone who is sleeping in death?— No. No matter how loud you call, the one who is dead will not hear. There is nothing that you or I or any other person on earth today can do to wake the dead.

But Jesus is different. He has special power from God. So when Jesus calls Lazarus, an amazing thing happens. The man who has been dead for four days comes out of the cave! He is brought back to life! He can breathe and walk and speak again! Yes, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.—John 11:1-44.

Now think about it: What happened to Lazarus when he died? Did some part of him—a soul or a spirit—leave his body and go to live somewhere else? Did Lazarus’ soul go to heaven? Was he alive for four days up there with God and the holy angels?—

No, he wasn’t. Remember, Jesus said Lazarus was sleeping. What is it like when you are asleep? When you are in a very deep sleep, you do not know what is going on around you, do you?— And when you wake up, you do not know how long you have been sleeping until you look at a clock.

It is like that with dead people. They do not know anything. They do not feel anything. And they cannot doanything. That is the way it was with Lazarus when he was dead. Death is like a deep sleep where a person doesn’t remember anything. The Bible says: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.

Think about this too: If Lazarus had been in heaven for those four days, would he not have said something about it?— And if he had been in heaven, would Jesus have made him come back to earth from that wonderful place?— Of course not!

Yet, many people say that we have a soul, and they say that the soul lives on after the body dies. They say that Lazarus’ soul was alive somewhere. But the Bible does not say that. It says that God made the first man Adam “a living soul.” Adam was a soul. The Bible also says that when Adam sinned, he died. He became a “dead soul,” and he returned to the dust from which he had been made. The Bible also says that all Adam’s offspring inherited sin and death too.—Genesis 2:7; 3:17-19; Numbers 6:6; Romans 5:12.

Clearly, then, we do not have a soul that is separate from our body. Each one of us is a soul. And since people have inherited sin from the first man, Adam, the Bible says: ‘The soul that sins will die.’—Ezekiel 18:4.

I have just lost my daughter to cancer and this is what the Bible teaches about the dead.  Knowing this has comforted me.  No more pain, no more suffering, just peaceful sleep. Hope this can help your mom.  


Some people are afraid of the dead. They won’t go near a graveyard because they think that the dead have souls separate from their body that could harm the living. But can a dead person harm someone who is alive?— No, he can’t.

Some people even believe that the dead can come back as spirits to visit the living. So they set out food for the dead. But people who do that do not really believe what God says about the dead. If we believe what God says, we won’t be afraid of the dead. And if we are really thankful to God for life, we will show it by doing things that God approves.

But you may wonder: ‘Will God bring children who have died back to life? Does he really want to?’ Let’s talk about that next.

Let’s read further in the Bible about the condition of the dead and about man being a soul, at Psalm 115:17(113:17, “Dy”); Ps 146:3, 4 (145:3, 4, “Dy”); and Jeremiah 2:34.


Posts: 7
Joined: Dec 2012

I've read them to my mother. Although she's skeptical of whether or not death is just that peaceful, she's found some comfort through these readings. =)

grandmafay's picture
Posts: 1639
Joined: Aug 2009

   First let me say how sorry I am that you are facing the loss of your mother. I am also sorry that you find yourself separated from you husband after so short a time after your marriage. I can only imagine how difficult this is for you. I lost my husband of 42 years after his six year battle with colon cancer. Being a caregiver is a tough job all by itself. You are trying to be everything to everybody right now, and you realize that that really isn't possible. It sounds like you are a bit (understatement, I'm sure) stressed. What can you tell your mom about death? That depends on your faith. Maybe all you can do is level with her and say you don't know. Hug her and let her know how much you love her. Assure her that you will always carry her in your heart. I am a Christian, and my husband's faith was very strong. He believed that he was going home to God. That made it much easier for him and our family. Still, it can be very scary for some. 

   Now, your marriage. I was married for 42 years before my husband died. That doesn't make me an expert, so I don't have any words of wisdom. This is a tough time for both of you. Long distant relationships can be very difficult especially when the marriage is new. My husband and I did live a short distance apart, by comparison, during our engagement. We wrote a lot of letters during that time and actually got to know each other better. You might want to try email to express your feelings and encourage him to do the same. Sometimes writing things down is easier that talking.  Only you can decide what you need to do. Marriage is a partnership. Right now it sounds like your husband feels that  you are  choosing you mother over him, while you feel that you are where you are most needed. It is important to communicate and try to see things from each other's point of view.

  My thoughts will be with you. Feel free to private message me and to come here whenever you need to vent or share your thoughts. We each have to find our own way, but it is nice to know that we are not alone fighting this disease. It isn't what any of us planned. Take care of yourself, too. Fay 


Posts: 7
Joined: Dec 2012

I'm sorry about your husband, but I also congratulate you two on being together for so long. =) Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story in a time of black and gray for me.

My mother is catholic... but she finds it hard to believe some of their teachings. She wants to be around to see her kids grow up, so I've been telling her she still can, alive or dead, she'll always be our protector, our angel, our voice of reason. Unfortunately, I think I hit a nerve when I said "or dead" and her eyes would start to water.

I will also try to write to him rather than to talk as you mentioned. Writing does seem more natural to me; a place where I can say everything I want to say without fear of being cut off. But then as I'm about to click "Send" I think to myself... how will these words impact him? I don't want him to get the wrong impression or be hurt by what I have to say... and then I end up deleting the message altogether. =(

Thank you again for your support!


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