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Telling People I have Colon Cancer - The Aftermath

Peter_S's picture
Peter_S
Posts: 97
Joined: Oct 2018

The title of this post should really have been "Telling my elderly parents I have colon cancer" Since my diagnosis last week I've been an open book sharing the news with those close to me and there's been some very kind and supportive responses. My cancer has even motivated me to do a little online shopping, as I sit here typing with those silicon purple wrist bands, the same ones I've given to friends and my husband tosses to co-workers and clients.

But something is gnawing at me and that is my parents. My Dad is 90 and my Mom 89, they're incredibly active, lucid and social much more so than I am at 60. But the reality is they're geriatric and have their own health issues and our family like any family has it's fair share of dysfunction and nonsense. I think I should have spared them the worry because there's nothing anyone can do, this is my fight and my fight only. I think that part of me, maybe it's a part of us all that doesn't want to know time has gone by and our parent(s) are indestructible and always here to support us - maybe that part of my brain and heart took the wheel when I should have known better.

 

I am keeping it very positive when we speak on the phone and we'll see them for dinner this weekend, my Dad offered to wait with Sean (my husband) while I'm in surgery so perhaps it is something they can accept and handle. No matter how old we get we're still someones kid - if I've caused them undue pain and worry it wasn't intentional. Thanks for listening..err..well, reading.

Peter

abrub's picture
abrub
Posts: 2066
Joined: Mar 2010

My parents were similarly aged when I was diagnosed (Dad was 95, Mom was 89.)  However, my mother had Alzheimers, and my father, while lucid, was quite frail and fearful.  I worked with my siblings to tell them, but not until I knew more about my diagnosis.  My mom never understood (just as well.)  Dad was upset, but it was important that he know.  I think it's wonderful that your father offered to be with Sean while you are in surgery.  It remains important for him to be your parent.  I know that my father never even attempted to visit me in the hospital, where I was for a month due to all sorts of rare complications.  He worried, but was too fearful for himself to visit.  My mother never visited, because explaining would have been unsuccessful.  As much as it upset my father, it was important to him to know, and to at least provide materially for me (he paid for me to have private room at the hospital, which at Sloan Kettering is very expensive.)

Yes, keep it as positive as you can, but know that parents are forever parents, and sometimes having someone else to worry about relieves them of their own concerns.  Your parents are showing you that they can cope; that you are their son and they love you.  In my opinion, you were right in telling them.

Alice

Peter_S's picture
Peter_S
Posts: 97
Joined: Oct 2018

Hi Alice,

Thank you for that, for the clarity and insight it helps. I think spot on parents need to feel their still parents and regardless of age do the best they can and we love them as they love us the best we can - imperfect as it may be but wasn't it always? I'm keeping them in the loop but it's one of positivity and hope (and a lot of razzle dazzle) It was great my Dad offered to wait at the hospital but it would drive him nuts. As for your Dad he gave you the best love he was able to do - a private room at Sloan Kettering is an amazing gift it says he felt that nothing was too good for his daughter. I'll be at Yale medical in New Haven and doubt our insurance will cover a private room but one can always hope.

 So sorry about your Mom's Alzheimer's it's a savage disease, my Aunt nursed my Uncle through it, all the way to the end she's one tough lady I love her very much. I think when it comes to all these issues of human interaction, expectations both met and failed it really does come down to just doing the very best we can, what else can we do?

So thank you for the kind words and insight, it's made me feel better.

Peter

SandiaBuddy's picture
SandiaBuddy
Posts: 812
Joined: Apr 2017

My approach has been to be very open with everyone and it has worked well for me.  As for second guessing, there are lots of discussions of it on this board and I think the consensus is that it is not very productive.  You have told your parents, they seem to be doing fine (and you can't undo what you did anyway), so perhaps you would be best served saving your energy for the upcoming challenges.  Enjoy your days before surgery.  From my perspective, eating well and exercising (as if you are training for a competition), sleeping well and getting mentally as well as socially prepared are the best things you can do.

JanJan63's picture
JanJan63
Posts: 2476
Joined: Sep 2014

Peter, you really are a delight. I love reading your posts. I'm glad my parents were long gone when I got the diagnosis. They'd have been really stressed. But there were times when I was really sick or in the hospital when I would have loved to have been able to reach out and hold my mom's hand. I remember the day I had to tell my husband and adult daughter. I had no idea how to begin to tell them.

As for other people, I tell them- not everyone I meet- but if it comes up I do. And sometimes I'll make a joke about it. A$$ cancer, ha ha. Me and Farrah Fawcett. I never thought I'd have anything in common with her. That type of thing. One thing that's important to me is to try to take the fear out of the diagnosis. Almost half of everyone will get the diagnosis in their lifetime. But many people are scared to go and find out because they're scared of the treatments. I want people to see that with some cancers you can live so they're not so afraid. 

Its tough and I don't want to belittle the struggle but early detection is so important.

Jan

Peter_S's picture
Peter_S
Posts: 97
Joined: Oct 2018

Jan,

I adore your posts and the gentle way you have with people. You write like you speak and speak like you write and that's the key. Although I haven't lost a parent yet I have experianced devastating loss, loss that's always with me it hurts but it shapes who I am. I think it's safe to say that you can hold your moms hand and she can and does hold yours, deep in your heart you'll alwys have that - cancer can't touch that, not ever. You hold that beautiful family of yours so close and tight, protecting them because you're strong.

Thanks for being a Pal,

Peter 

JanJan63's picture
JanJan63
Posts: 2476
Joined: Sep 2014

Dammit Peter! You made me cry!

Hugs,

Jan

Peter_S's picture
Peter_S
Posts: 97
Joined: Oct 2018

Great, now I have to schlep to wherever you are, drape you and your horse in a huge fluffy feather boa and pair of 7 inch rhinestone shoulder duster earrings. I'm on my way weepy. Hugs Always, Peter

JanJan63's picture
JanJan63
Posts: 2476
Joined: Sep 2014

Ha ha! Thanks for the morning laugh!

Jan

Annabelle41415's picture
Annabelle41415
Posts: 6073
Joined: Feb 2009

Telling a loved one that you have cancer is never easy, especially when you say your parents are elderly with issues of their own, but they would want to support you I'm sure.  It was hard on my children, but it needed to be done.  We have 8 children and it took me some time to confront each one of them.  I'm glad you are expressing your situation, but in a delicate way with your parents.  They love you and want the best for you.  I'm hoping you have the most wonderful dinner with your parents this weekend.

Kim

Peter_S's picture
Peter_S
Posts: 97
Joined: Oct 2018

You're exactly right, it's very difficult to tell the people we love this news. Cancer is for most everyone one of their deepest and greatest fears. It's connotation is always so closley connected to suffering and death. But I love the way you phrased being gentle in expressing it because we can diffuse their own fears and maybe offer hope in return.

No doubt your kids took it hard, I was gutted when my father had non hodgkins lymphoma, it was a terrible time but of course we got through it. You have a lovley perspective on life with cancer and beyond, I enjoy your posts very much and I thank you for responding to one of mine.

Peter  

p14175
Posts: 11
Joined: Oct 2018

My parents are in their late 80s and, like yours, they are very active and in good health. I told them about my cancer after I got home from surgery. That way I could send them the surgeon's report on what was done and why.  I didn't want to try to explain what happened to me since the surgery was quite complex. The reason why I did it that way was because my sister passed away in March 2018 from pancreatic cancer and I didn't want them to worry if they were going to lose another child in less than a year.  I am making it my goal to outlive them.   

Peter_S's picture
Peter_S
Posts: 97
Joined: Oct 2018

I'm brand new to having cancer so I'm certainly not qualified to give any advice, that said I'll try my best not be glib and to let you know I really do feel for you and for your parents, no parent should lose a child - ever. Regardless of age, age doesn't count nor does it reduce the agony of grief. I think your way of telling your folks was creative and kind because it allows them to see a clinical diagnoses free of emotion and free of fear prior to speaking to you one on one and I think in this way you've established a touch stone for all of you -- a point of reference which works to everyone's benefit.

 I'm glad to know the surgery is behind you, you saved them all that anguish and worry because that part is over. I wish you a splendid and on going recovery as well as peace for your parents and some relief from their grief and from yours. Hope to see you around this forum and thanks for the reply to my post. Be well  - Peter

p14175
Posts: 11
Joined: Oct 2018

It took me close to two weeks to figure out the best way to tell them about my surgery.  It was funny becuase I didn't hear from my mother for at least a week. She had been looking up all the medical words in the surgery documentation. I think she knows more about what I went through than I do!  

I have been declared  cancer free, but I still have to do chemo to 'mop up' any cancer cells left behind. That's part of cancer treatment protocol.  I told my parents this was the boring part. 

 

Peter_S's picture
Peter_S
Posts: 97
Joined: Oct 2018

That's the greatest news of all, so glad to hear you're cancer free. Peter

KarenMG's picture
KarenMG
Posts: 107
Joined: Jun 2017

So sorry that you are in this situation. I am one of those grateful people that both my parents are not here to grieve over me having cancer. Strange, my dad just had passed away in July and I was diagnosed in September, of 2016. They were both chronic worriers about the least thing so this would not have gone well!

So I have no one left to tell. What I do struggle with is how much to tell people. My youngest son that is 39, has avoided the matter as much as possible. Never asks about upcoming tests or procedures, never has been to any appt with me. It seems he is trying to pretend it's nonexistent. I get it, I do the same thing sometimes. So mostly I hardly bother to tell him anything unless it is something big. 

I guess he will know it when things start to wind down and I don't have long. Will it be too late to talk then? Time will tell. Yes, I am a big old mess. Thank goodness I finally got in with a therapist, actually 2 of them. I'm convinced my emotional status is much worse than my physical status but possibly less likely to end my life.

You seem like a great guy, I do wish you the best on your journey!

Karen

 

 

 

 

Peter_S's picture
Peter_S
Posts: 97
Joined: Oct 2018

 


Thank you for the really kind and supportive words of encouragement. I'm sure you hear this often and I usually don't say to people "oh you look like insert name of famous person here" but I can't resist because there is a striking resemblance between you and yourself and the superb actress Rachel Griffiths - I adore her. Especially in Six Feet Under one of the most extraordinary television shows of all time. I was a huge fan.
 
If you're your folks were chronic worriers as are mine I'm both sorry for your loss and glad they were able to be spared the pain of knowing their child is suffering. If I could do it over, I mean tell my folks I wouldn't have or maybe waited until after my butchering.. er I mean surgery and there's that pesky hind sight is 20/20 rule again.We do the best we can based on what we know and how crazy and un-crazy we are at any particular moment and then off we go to live with the consequences. I'm not trying to sound smart because I'm not - it just sounded good in my head at the moment.
 
I would day that your son is doing the best he can, because the people who love us do just that and we love them as best we can. We can and often do believe it isn't good enough or we feel badly because our expectations haven't been met and I shouldn't be saying "we" because I'm only speaking of and for myself. I was very close to both my grandparents on my mothers side, all of my life. I was never a disappointment to them or judged or made to feel bad. And they were remarkable people and led remarkable lives. Anyway, there was this period of time where I had an apartment a stones throw from where they were living in an assisted living home, I avoided visiting them I kept in touch and saw them on special occasions but they no longer looked like I remembered or how I saw them in my minds eye. This probably isn't anything unusual and I only mention it because if your son is feeling that he doesn't want to even think of his Mom with cancer or suffering or in pain of any kind and that seeing you might fracture the very delicate framework he has of you - I totally get it.
 
As for you being a mess, I'm a hot mess a big one so you're not alone in messiness and I'm glad to know you have a therapist or two because that can be such a huge help. I saw my first psychiatrist when I was very young, my first major depressive episode when I was in college. The official diagnosis is MDD (major depressive disorder) I've had an excellent Dr for nearly 15 years, I'm very resistant to meds so if you name the SSRI, SSNI or even old school MAOI inhibitors - I've been on them and it's an exhausting process because  most any anti depressant is going to take 6-8 weeks to kick in, you find out they don't work. and it's back to the drawing board to try something new, with a whole new set of side effects to push through and well, repeat as often as needed.
 
In an unfortunate stroke of bad luck a few days after my cancer diagnosis I discovered he had left his practice. But he has been a hero and has in the past saved me many times over in every way I could have been saved. So I hope your therapists is helping you and that when it comes to your son and when you boil it all down to love it's never to late. Best to you Karen and thanks for your heartfelt reply - Peter
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