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Serious illness “obligations” with close family members?

 
 
Linkat
 
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 12:25 pm
What are people’s opinions on telling close family members about a serious illness? What sort of “obligation” do you feel you should have for close family members? In other words, if you were diagnosed with a serious illness, when should you tell your close family members about it? Or should you? How much detail should you tell? Does living further away change who and how much/when you tell people?

I understand that no one is actually obligated to tell anyone anything at all. However, don’t you have sort of ethical or moral (not sure if this is exactly the word I’m searching for) obligation to inform people close to you; those that love you and care for you?

I am running into this now indirectly and have run into this directly as well. I have a SIL that had never told my husband she has a brain tumor – he found out from his niece. And still she won’t reveal anything about it or extremely little even to her own mom who lives in the same town as her. My dad never told me about his cancer until a month or longer after he knew about it. I have a cousin that had been diagnosed with breast cancer and never told her parents (she lived across country from her parents) until after she had completed medical treatments.

My husband really is upset about it because he wants to help any way he can. He has offered and his sister doesn’t even return phone calls – and she has done similar to other family members.
 
JPB
 
  4  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 12:33 pm
@Linkat,
I don't think there is any obligation to share one's medical reality with anyone but their care provider. That would mean their medical team and the person at home who is providing direct care and comfort to the patient. Anything beyond that is purely personal choice.

I imagine your dad was trying to formulate what to say to you during that month long delay in talking about his diagnosis. Your SIL may eventually welcome the fact that your husband and his mother know of her situation, or she may not ever want to talk about it.

Even on a smaller scale some folks like to go to bed when they're sick and pull a blanket up over their heads until they feel better and others milk all the TLC they can get out of an illness. I think it's personal and that there are no hard rules.
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 12:38 pm
@JPB,
I agree and hold no issue with my dad - that wasn't a big deal in a sense.

Curious though - don't you think, although no obligation, you should share some details of a serious illness with close family or friends. They love you. Doesn't love obligate you to some degree? I don't mean every little ounce - but that you have a tumor - I mean you could go over her house and then say damn I have a headache and then jokingly I must have a brain tumor..

What about if it is serious or not? We don't know that - we just know she has one - not whether it is cancerous or anything.

And this has been quite a while from what we have gathered - months maybe even years from the little info we have received.
JPB
 
  3  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 12:43 pm
@Linkat,
I'm guessing your niece needed some support herself and that's why she told your husband. Sometimes in our desire to be strong except to a few specifically chosen individuals we transfer the burden onto them. Sometimes the secret becomes too much of a burden for the trusted family member so, in that respect, I think if your SIL decided to share her situation with some of her family then she could/should share it with others so that they can create their own support team.

Your husband knows because his niece told him. His sister doesn't want to discuss it. I suggest your husband try to support your niece in any way he can.
Rockhead
 
  2  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 12:50 pm
@Linkat,
when you say close family members, do you mean people that were born into the same cluster, or are they truly close and involved in each others lives?

most of the folks I grew up with have no idea I am ill.

and most of my "family" consists of folks I share no blood with...

Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 12:51 pm
@JPB,
She actually didn't know my husband did not know about it. She texted my daughter and asked her how aunty was doing (my niece is in her 20s, my daughter 13)? So my daughter came to her dad and asked aunty has a brain tumor?

He then called his mom - who had heard just recently, but didn't know anything further.

His sister has been a bit strange lately and I wonder if it is the tumor. She had sent us a letter saying she going to move to a state that was closer to us. Then we find out from my other SIL that she was just going to visit friends out there and then go to Nashville to write Christian music (who knew she had interest and/or talent for this?)

Now she is still at her home...but supposedly and this was months ago we got this letter she had the tumor then according to her?

Her behavor has just been plain strange too...not just that she isn't discussing her tumor.

She wrote a long letter must have been 12 pages or so - sent to another niece who is 18 asking for her to send to everyone. There were a few pages of her illness without anything that really tells you what is truly wrong. And pages and pages about her Christian beliefs and her walk with God.

I told my husband it seems she is looking for attention by being so vague - it almost seems so.
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 12:52 pm
@Rockhead,
Those that you are truly close with - as I was stating above - those that love you and care for you.

For example I have a cousin I didn't realize had breast cancer (not the one I mentioned above) we were close as children, but haven't had contact other than funerals and weddings really. Where I saw her last and found out about it. I really wouldn't have expected her to contact me about it.

But a sister that you regularly have contact with, yes I would.
Rockhead
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 12:55 pm
@Linkat,
there is still some "need to know" basis in there...

a lot of my "family" is old folks. or other folks with health troubles. it gives us common ground and understanding.

but if I knew I was to be dying, a lot of folks wouldn't know until I had to tell them.

including some of my "close" family.

unnecessary burden to carry until it has to be shouldered...

I have regular enough contact with one sister. she has little idea of the scope of my illness.

she just thinks I like being a hermit...
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 01:01 pm
I understand not wanting to talk about it, certainly if you are still working out what you think yourself. I had bc in 2001 (fine now) when I was living in a relatively new city to me, and sharing a double business, one being a gallery that was usually open most days. My business partner and her husband knew and that was it (in that city). I didn't want to hear How are you doing, dear? ten times a day from well meaning acquaintances. Later, after treatment, and as I got to know people better, I told a few people who had become friends over a year or two.

I did though have a support group - a lifetime's worth of friends and family that I did tell, who didn't live in that place. One came up to be with me during the second surgery. Kept the nurses and me in stitches, she being a long time nurse with a lot of personality. When we got home, she made chicken soup.. (love that woman).

Anyway, my take is the same as JPB's - it depends on the person re how she wants to handle it, and no obligation.

I suppose if I had still lived in Los Angeles, I would have told the same people, who are pretty cool and wouldn't be doing the 10 how are yous a day while still being there for me. But that's me, not something others should choose.
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 01:32 pm
@ossobuco,
But you did tell close family members - those close to you, right? And at least let them know you did have a serious illness?

It was odd - like no one told anyone.

I can understand saying or asking some one very close to "spread the word" and then say it is a delicate situation and she/he would prefer not to discuss details.

I know everyone handles things differently but to just not tell anyone anything at all. I think it is odd because she is almost secretly letting info out-like she wants to tell and wants the attention, but she wants to make it seem like she doesn't - although I suppose I can see it that way - she has acted like that on most things since I've known her.
Mame
 
  4  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 02:37 pm
Hmmm, I don't think I would tell anyone except my kids and my husband, and maybe a couple of sisters.

We belong to a group of 18 friends who meet once a week (and have been for 32 yrs) and was one of them recently died of brain cancer. They talked about him a lot when he wasn't there, you know, when they last saw him, what he looked like, etc. I wouldn't want people talking about me like that because it's none of their business how I'm doing. I don't even think I'd tell my closest friends. Illness and death are very private matters to me, so I'd understand if a friend or family member kept their illness a secret from me.
0 Replies
 
Krumple
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 02:49 pm
@Linkat,
Linkat wrote:

What are people’s opinions on telling close family members about a serious illness? What sort of “obligation” do you feel you should have for close family members? In other words, if you were diagnosed with a serious illness, when should you tell your close family members about it? Or should you? How much detail should you tell? Does living further away change who and how much/when you tell people?

I understand that no one is actually obligated to tell anyone anything at all. However, don’t you have sort of ethical or moral (not sure if this is exactly the word I’m searching for) obligation to inform people close to you; those that love you and care for you?

I am running into this now indirectly and have run into this directly as well. I have a SIL that had never told my husband she has a brain tumor – he found out from his niece. And still she won’t reveal anything about it or extremely little even to her own mom who lives in the same town as her. My dad never told me about his cancer until a month or longer after he knew about it. I have a cousin that had been diagnosed with breast cancer and never told her parents (she lived across country from her parents) until after she had completed medical treatments.

My husband really is upset about it because he wants to help any way he can. He has offered and his sister doesn’t even return phone calls – and she has done similar to other family members.



I don't think there is a clear cut one solution for everyone. There might be reasons why she doesn't want to tell your husband. Maybe she doesn't want him to worry and she will feel worse if she makes him worry about her. Odd I know but it is one possiblity.

Also some people don't want to confront their illnesses so they think by not informing their family members they are in some way avoiding the illness as if it's not really happening. By telling everyone they might feel like they are inviting this illness into the family and making it have a presence.

I think when it comes down to it, if a person doesn't want to talk about their illness, don't force it and don't push the issue. Respect them on it completely until they feel inclined to include you in it. If they never invite you then deal with it. If you try to force them into inviting you in you could only be making things worse, not always better. Some people feel the need to try the healing method of forgetting they are ill. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't. Depends on how they are being treated, both medically and emotionally.
0 Replies
 
Eva
 
  3  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 03:14 pm
Having had a serious illness or two in my time, I completely understand not telling people. When you're having a difficult time coping, it often helps to have as many relationships as possible remain "normal." It helps you keep your balance.

That said, it IS weird to find out family members and close friends have serious illnesses and didn't tell you. A couple of months ago, my sister told me that our brother (age 52) had a heart attack last year. At the time, he and I were speaking on the phone regularly about a family business matter, and he didn't tell me. I asked him about it recently, and he is still somewhat reluctant to discuss it. Oh well. As long as he knows he CAN talk to me if he wants, I figure it's his business.
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 03:56 pm
@Eva,
I think that is a good point - as long as the individual know they can talk with you or some one close - I guess that is the most important thing.

I guess the tough thing is on the other side, knowing there is a serious illness, but not knowing how serious it is...or is not. Puts nerves on the other family members. The one good thing is she seems at peace (at least according to her letter) about it - she never states how serious her illness is - just that she is at peace with whatever outcome happens. The other thing is - family members worry that she isn't actively asking doctors questions - just entrusting them completely or so she says.

And she gives just enough info - to have you questioning without knowing. But like you and others said - it is her personal issue and if she wants to deal that way with her condition she is a grown adult...
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 09:43 pm
@Linkat,
Yes, but that was me. I can easily understand not telling until I got used to it myself.

I don't think you can judge her on this. I think that would approach (sorry) tacky, despite the history that might help you understand it or resent it.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 09:47 pm
I've a friend who had a double mastectomy, now quite long ago, and told no one at all but her husband.
0 Replies
 
CalamityJane
 
  2  
Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 10:16 pm
@Linkat,
Brain tumors are iffy, Linkat. I had a friend with brain tumor and it somehow changes their entire personality and not for the better. As the tumor progressed, my friend got quite nasty with everyone including his own wife and other family members. They can't help it, but depending where the tumor is located in the brain, it is not only extremely painful, it is mind altering as well.

So I would not fault SIL for her strange behavior, it's part of the brain tumor
and it will get worse, so brace yourself. Your husband should understand that and not take it personal. Being there for his niece and her immediate family members is all he can do right now.

As for myself, I think I would try to hide an illness from my child, but not other family members. I would need their support more than anything and at this point I would not care about pride or any other false feelings.
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jul, 2012 06:56 am
@ossobuco,
I don't think I'm trying to really judge her - just understand her. And also trying to help my husband because understandably he is worried about her.

But she has been a bit of weird bird in a nice way (I am a weird bird myself so I guess it is ok for me to say so).

Personally it doesn't bother me - little does - but I think because it bothers and maybe hurts my husband I am thinking about it a bit more.
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jul, 2012 06:59 am
@CalamityJane,
I was kind of wondering if the tumor would or could have an impact on personality. Like I said she can be a bit odd on things, but some of the stuff more recently has been over top even for her.

I think it is really more worry - I and even more so my husband worries that she is just taking one doctor's opinion or maybe not getting all the data from the doctors, but like I said she is an adult and really she needs to work this out for herself.
0 Replies
 
PUNKEY
 
  2  
Reply Wed 25 Jul, 2012 06:31 pm
"she is an adult and really she needs to work this out for herself. "

Exactly.

I'd stay out of this. It's way too personal. Personal requests should be honored. She will ask for help when and where she needs it. You can e ready at that time.

Her behavior could be her "Bucket List" she is working on . . . or . . . it could be medications, hormones, mid-life crisis, or the tumor itself affecting behavior.
 

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