• Should I tell elderly mother she has cancer ?

    Asked by vickyj on Tuesday, May 21, 2013

    Should I tell elderly mother she has cancer ?

    My elderly mother was recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer while in the hospital for a stroke. Dr told her about it at the time but she was too confussed at the time to understand. she is recovering well from the stroke but still does not know about the cancer. My mother lives with me and is very depressed about the stroke taking her eye sight and limiting her mobility. I really do not know if I should add to her fragile state by telling her that she has cancer and Dr says she has less than 1yr to live. MRI in hospital showed the cancer in both lungs but no further test were done. Not sure of origin,she never smoked however had R kidney removed 5 yrs ago due to clear cell cancer. This is so hard ,she is 82 and working so hard to recover from the effects of the stroke and is still not showing any signs of illness other than extreme fatigue. Just so sad.

    10 Answers from the Community

    10 answers
    • Tcaba's Avatar

      That's a hard one to answer as every person handles in a different way. I might suspect she would likely guess something amiss sooner or later. Personally I would want to know why my body was failing me and not wonder what is wrong.

      I have just ended today 3 weeks of bewilderment, anxiety and fear of not knowing if I had a recurrence or not. In a strange way I am somewhat relived now.

      God Bless you both!

      over 3 years ago
    • Gabba's Avatar

      I am so sorry for what you and your mother are going through...she will need follow-up after her stroke so perhaps you could speak with her physician regarding how and when to tell her..also speak with him to be clear on your mom's diagnosis and prognosis...if I had one year in which to say and do the things I would feel necessary before letting go and I was not given the chance I would be upset...don't you think that she would want to know? She is going to depend on you, especially with her failed vision and mobility issues, and you are going to need help dealing with her emotions and your own...palliative care, rather than hospice, at this time might be a big help to you both...the hospital has social workers who can help you organize what she will need and your VNA (Visiting Nurse Assoc.) can assist also. I am sending positive thoughts and prayers your way...please keep us informed and let us know what we might be able to do to help...God bless!

      over 3 years ago
    • GregP_WN's Avatar

      I went through this very thing, twice, with both parents. Dad had prostate cancer for 13 years before it got aggressive and started spreading. In 3 weeks time he went from knowing what was going on and driving a car, to being gone. I told him he was sick and in the hospital to find out why his cancer had spread and what could be done. He never came home, and he never really understood it.

      2 months later, mom gets a cough she cannot get rid of. Scan shows it's an inoperable lung tumor. Dr. told us in private, but we told mom what it was, and that they said she might make it 6 mos. with or without treatment, so what do you want to do? She chose to not have treatments, and never complained, went right on doing just fine until one month before she finally lost the fight. She made it 10 months.

      It's a hard choice. I can see the benefits of not adding to the stress she has and her mental state being harmed by knowing. But it depends on the mental make up of the person who has the cancer. She may take it just fine and say, so what, let's live it up!

      I wish you the best in your decision. And her the best in her final journey.

      over 3 years ago
    • geekling's Avatar

      She has every right to know what is going on and how to prepare herself for what ever might be coming. She isn't your child but is your parent.

      My Mom developed a dementia. She knew she wasn't herself. We had a long talk and I comforted her and explained she could count on me for safety and that I would not put her in a nursing home which was her greatest fear. We tried all sorts of odd things (I wish I'd known more things) and got 4 years before she was mentally obliterated and then died. She was not ever in fear and always knew me as safety and home even when she no longer remembered my name or our relationship. Someone taught me about such a thing to do when I was a young woman.

      My point is that your Mom knows something is wrong. She is simply entitled to know what it is and who she can or can't trust.

      As it turned out, I found out how this happened to my Mother and why I got the cancer I had just finished with when she died. We got royally screwed by a house insurer thrice, in writing, and mold grew unseen behind the walls and up in the crawl space of an attic at our house. Three years later, after her death, I was still sick and another storm came thru. The insurer told me, in writing, as they always do, to simply seal and paint the interior leaks. This time, when I changed the flooring of the storm damaged house (months later when I, like my Mom, was horridly confused) the baseboards were removed and the mold fell down onto the floor from behind the baseboards.

      My Mom died, the cats died, and I got a cancer and a blood disease and nearly died of oxygen starvation. You won't be adding to her fragile state. You haven't caused her condition. People are almost always stronger when they can see what is going on.

      As I recall, fatigue IS cancer. There was no pain until I began conventional treatments.

      over 3 years ago
    • CAS1's Avatar

      I might suspect that its the kidney cancer in her lungs. 85% of new lung cancers are in people who have either never smoked or quit more than a decade ago so it could be lung cancer too.

      I am sorry for you and your Mom. I think you should tell her. There are treatments for both and she may live much longer than suggested. Get the palliative team in to help you. She might do very well..Hold on and all you can do is the best you can..

      over 3 years ago
    • TaraMac's Avatar

      Hi Vickyj I'm so sorry about your mom, If it was my mother I would just make the time from this day forward very special for her. Due to the fact that she has already been in a state of trauma and being depressed at 82 is not good for her . I know this is very hard for you, but I know at the same time you would like to be honest with her. At this point I would say silence is golden meaning she is dealing with enough already hearing something like this could tear her body down faster just from the worry alone. Also I would PRAY on it ask god for guidance and strength. Blessings all around to you your mom & your family. Praying for you each day, Be Blessed.

      over 3 years ago
    • FreeBird's Avatar

      My heart goes out to you and your mom with her health problems. I have always been 100% honest with my dad about his health circumstances, and I would want the same for me. For me, it would be more distressing to feel that something is being hidden from me, and I would always have to guess whether I was being told everything.

      over 3 years ago
    • FreeBird's Avatar

      Best course is maybe to ask the doctor for advice on the best time and way to talk to her about her health issues.

      over 3 years ago
    • SueRae1's Avatar

      Speak with a social worker at the hospital about how to let your mom know what's going on. I know that I would want to know. Do you have any sibs you can talk this over with? Hugs.

      over 3 years ago
    • AlizaMLS's Avatar

      Dear vickyj,

      Hi, I'm Aliza, a BC patient and the site's unofficial Medical Librarian. I'm sorry to hear about your mother. I know about strokes (I had a t.i.a. when I was 41-I'm fine [you're fine 24 hrs later after one]), and I also know about them because my friends' mom had a severe one that sounds a bit like the one you describe. I also had a mother with dementia, who became too confused, after a while, to understand anything that was happening to her.

      Ultimately, it is you who must decide, based on her mental state, that is both her ability to comprehend, and the state of her depression, whether or not it's "worth it" to saddle her with this information when she's only got one year to live. It's not like she's going to be able to live out her "bucket list". If you don't tell her, she'll become more frail and non-comprehending and just die quietly without being burdened (frankly if I was in her place, and could project, I think that's what I'd want [and that's after the last year I've had {following a breast cancer diagnosis and a mastectomy-don't mistake me, I'm cancer free for 5 months, have a wonderful supportive fiancé, have a tissue expander in place, look great in plunging necklines, feel pretty good, and am awaiting reconstruction surgery so I can get back to planning my Wedding). I just don't see the point in frightening an elderly frail woman who won't really understand or be able to process complex information in any kind of positive way. This is my opinion only and you must follow your heart.

      It's a difficult decision, and you ultimately must come to terms with not only losing your mom (which is hard) but doing so in a way that causes her the least suffering.

      Warmest wishes,

      over 3 years ago

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