what do you say to sibling who is terminal?

plaidthumbFebruary 20, 2009

This may not be the right forum, please move it if necessary.

Found out last night that my older (60 yrs. old and 1/2 way across the country) sister's cancer has returned and is apparently spread to many places, including her spine. She has been sick for a cfew months, but refused to tell anyone. She had had a recurrence of cancer 3 years ago, but had chemo for it and never told anyone what the dr.s told her after treatment. With all the Privacey acts, we as a family couldn't get any info. We had all suspected what the issue was, but could never get any straight info from her.

Anyway, I guess it's been closer to two months she's been in a nursing home because she wasn't taking care of herself. She refuse to get a ct scan, told different people differeent versions of what was wrong with her, alienated friends/family who tried to visit her. It took a chance meeting of friends and an off-the-cuff remark about both of them visiting a friend in the home, and "the friend" turned out to be my sister. After talking with each other, they both contacted some other friends and started putting 2 and 2 and 2 together. Once we (family) got things figured out, we did everything we knew to convince her she needed to find out exactly what the problems were she was experiencing. It finally took a cold-hearted discusseion with her and some of the staff at the nursing home that finally convinced her to get the CT scan. Blood work wasn't showing cancer signs.

Found out results of the test last night. Cancer has returned pretty aggresively to many parts of her body including her spine. Dr. didn't give a timetable, just said that she wasn't a candidate for surgery (obese), and that there was at best a 1 in 3 chance that chemo would be successful.

Anyway, I called her today and realized that I had absolutely no idea what to say. She was real bubbly for a couple of minutes, then settled down into...I'm not sure what. Maybe pain meds, I don't know. She mentioned it wasn't good, then started slurring her words a bit, then became easy to understand again. I assume she's on pain meds, but couldn't get a straight answer. I don't feel like I handled the call well--what do you say to someone in this situation? We were never really close (too many years between us), but surely there is a better way to handle these conversations.

Anybody with experience have any words of wisdom? I want to keep in touch with her, but I don't want to just call to remind her that she's in bad shape, you know?


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My siblings, mother and I went through a lot of what you are going through with your sister. Our oldest sister was diagnosed in June, 2008, with inoperable lung cancer that had spread to her spine and shoulder. She had just turned 60 a few months before. She went through rounds of chemo and radiation and was on powerful pain medications. She lost her voice the month before she died, which made it even more difficult to communicate with her. She died November 14, 2008. It was too fast and left us all stunned and devastated.

I would call her whenever I could, (not on chemo days, because they really left her drained) and also urge her to call me on her good days, as I didn't want to interrupt her if she was sleeping. I also sent cards and wrote letters, bought her special shampoo and lotions when her hair started thinning, soft pajamas that buttoned down the front, because her shoulder hurt too much to pull things over her head, etc. Don't hesitate to tell her how much you love her, laugh and talk about silly things that happened when you were growing up together. Don't be embarrassed to show your feelings, because with cancer, these words could easily be your last shared conversation.

I kept a journal and one of the entries I made was on a day when we laughed and talked about Dancing with the Stars, of all things. Sometimes she might just want you to listen, or even to cry with her, which is okay, too. The day before she died, she had her son call everyone and tell us to come, because it wouldn't be long. She just knew. Most of us live out of state, but we all were there to be with her and spend the day with her before she slipped away.

Take care. I'm sure you will do fine. There's no right or wrong way to go through this. Just follow your heart.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 8:56PM
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Sorry for your sister and you, I pray you two can come together and show the love and compassion that might have escaped you both over the years, you might say the world got in the way but now it's a question of family.

No reason for pride now, please get close to your sister now and you both will be so much the happier for it and it might even give her the extra strength she needs now.

Don't worry about what to say, open your heart and your voice will follow with a clear message of love and compassion. Please take the word of someone who just went through the same thing and do this while you can and you will feel better afterword.

I pray you both grow closer and hope you will post again to let us know.

God Bless You and your Sister

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 12:11AM
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Well, I had a couple of short converstations with her prior to her dieing last week. She was semi-coherent most the time. Just got back from the funeral.

Our parents are doing much better. I think the turmoil about not knowing what was wrong really wore them down. Dad especially seemed much more relaxed and more his old self.

The usual "good to see you, sorry it had to be like this" routine. Hopefully we'll realize as a family that we need to try to get together more often and not assume each other will always be there.

Thanks for the concern expressed by all who responded.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2009 at 12:25AM
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I am so so sorry for your loss. I also lost my older sister to cancer 15 years ago. She died at age 51 of ovarian cancer. Fortunately we were able to have heart-to-heart conversations, knowing that she would not live. I miss her terribly. In fact, I miss her more as time goes by.

I do hope your sister's death at least serves the purpose of pulling your family closer together.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 8:28PM
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My oldest sister was the same age when she died from cancer. She battled it for so many years. She lived so much longer then any of us thought she would. She has been gone almost 5 years now. The last round she had it bad in her kidneys and all the meds had done a number on her heart. After talking with her doctor she decided not to do any treatments. I think she made the right choice. We thought we would have one last Thanksgiving and Christmas with her but it was not to be. She died on my youngest daughters birthday. I went to see her often for the last 6 months. I knew in my heart that the time was near and I packed my bags and told my hubby I would be back when it was over. She knew all of us until about the last hour. She just quietly went off to sleep.. I sure do miss her.

I have had the ole cancer thing, too,and I work real hard at being the best wife, mom and grandma I can be. Show all those that you love how much you do love them. Don't ever be afraid to show it...

I am almost at the age that she died. I remember all the good talks we had about our hubbys, children and grandchildren. I am so glad that we had the time to chat.. I would so love to be able to do it again.. Some day I will see here again..

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 8:49PM
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