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Family Imploding

Family Imploding

Posted by reddishdragon on Mar 13, 2020 12:15 am

I am not sure if this is the right place for this issue, but my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer.  Like many, our family is dysfunctional and my siblings are creating a lot of drama that is putting a lot of stress on my Mom.  I would be surprised if this situation was unique so I am hoping that I can get some suggestions or direction to a resource that might help me cope with this situation before I become bitter, withdrawn and unable to be there for my Mom as she begins to undergo treatment for stage IV lung cancer. Thank you.

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by MCoaster on Mar 13, 2020 4:31 am

reddishdragon‍   Welcome here and yes you are in the right place.  It is heartbreaking when a family cannot unite to support their siblings and most importantly their mother when she needs them.   It is also sad that the attitude of others may potentially damage your emotional health.   At such times it may be helpful to involve someone who is not directly involved such as a trusted friend or a “.neutral” family member to mediate.   Perhaps your mother could write to everyone putting down on paper what she needs them to do.  As a mother I know how difficult it is to stop being the caregiver and to become the one who is the focus and needs to be supported.   Do you and your mother have access to support outside of the family?   The Cancer Society is a good source to access counselling and other useful services.  Most hospitals have social workers etc available because of course your mother’s emotional health is an important factor in her physical health.

This community is also a tremendous source to tap into as we are always here for each other to support, share real life experiences and knowledge as well as to vent to.   The Peer Match teams members who are actively experiencing cancer either as a patient or as a caregiver with a trained volunteer who has already had a like experience and this is done by phone.   You can find details of services available to you and your mother if you scroll down “the Latest discussions” page to the end of the discussions.

I am sure more people will jump in with ideas.

Once more, welcome.


Re: Family Imploding

Posted by reddishdragon on Mar 13, 2020 11:15 am

Thanks for your response and the sincerity and warmth of your words.  They have been a balm to my heart.  I will continue to seek support through this site then.  Our family is fragmented and my siblings refuse to talk to each other.  A nurse had told me about a resource to help my Mom communicate about her situation and needs but this was interpreted as a suggestion for counselling and I was subjected to a tirade of recriminations that had nothing to do with my Mom or her situation before I was even allowed to correct the misunderstanding.  So this is leaving me in a situation where I feel I am not allowed to have feelings of my own because their feelings need to be respected first and foremost.  In the meantime, my Mom is doing the best she can at trying to communicate but because our dysfunction is rooted in our upbringing and my siblings and I have developed complex coping mechanisms it isn't always effective.  For all of what she managed to accomplish in her humble life, my Mom has mostly been afraid and this fear and inability to set boundaries has had an impact on her children.  We are used to half-truths or no response at all so it is hard to know what is real and what isn't.  These are coping mechanisms my Mom developed to survive her life challenges and now that we are in this serious situation it is creating an environment that is escalating towards even more heart break.  I know that the only thing I can control is myself but I feel like my only choice is to be absent and this causes me a lot of grief.

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Runner Girl on Mar 13, 2020 12:03 pm

reddishdragon‍ ,

I am so very sorry that your mom has been diagnosed with cancer.  I am also sorry that your family has the history of dysfunction that it does that has everyone at odds now when they really need to band together for the good of your mother.

I'd really like to sit your family down and tell them a story.  I grew up in the standard dysfunctional family, but things really fell apart in 1986 when my sister died in April in a car accident and then my brother died in August in another car accident and our family dog died in October.   My sister was 16 when she died and my brother 17.  They never got to grow up, never got to live and I was robbed of having them as part of my life.  What I wouldn't give to talk to them again.  Then my last remaining sibling went off the rails, he figured he was destined to die too.  I haven't seen him since 1987.  When my mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in January 2018 I had to contact him and tell him that our mom had died.  By the way, my dad suffered from schizophrenia and died of lung cancer in 2013.  I have no one left from my family but this one brother.  2 weeks ago he phoned me and we talked for an hour and a half.  I've never been so happy in my entire life.  I'm here on this site because just after my mom died I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I am now currently cancer free.

Someone should step up and unite your family for the good of your mothers health.  This is serious and it's time the let go of the past and live in the now.

You may find looking into mindfulness meditation helpful and might bring you some peace.

Runner Girl
Never stop believing in HOPE because MIRACLES happen every day!

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Kims1961 on Mar 14, 2020 6:39 am

Such powerful truths here...thank you to Runner Girl‍ and reddishdragon‍ ...you are strong, courageous and resilient .  

I think most of us would agree that unfortunately cancer does not stop/cure/or fix  - unhealthy or unhelpful relationships that are already present in family dynamics.  Some of the dysfunction- was really just survival skills for people during very difficult situations. Then cancer is added to the mix and so much like any family "event" - weddings, funerals, get togethers - some of the coping strategies for folks is really highlighted.

I'm so glad you have reached out here reddishdragon‍ .  This is a safe place to share/vent/ask questions.  I know others have also found some help through their family doctors, local counselling agencies, other support groups in their community.

Does your mom have a treatment plan? Are you able to have some time with her to understand what her hopes are throughout treatment?  What is most important to her?  What are her worries? Sometimes knowing. that can help others to be focused as this is the pivotal point.

Please let us know how you are doing.  So glad you posted - i think your post will also help many others out there who have the same concerns.  Kim

Her2+, ER+ Bilateral mastectomy in 2017, followed by chemo and radiation. Mack and Hannah's mom

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by cancertakesflight on Mar 14, 2020 9:00 am

reddishdragon‍  As Runner Girl‍  and Kims1961‍  and MCoaster‍ have said, many families have an interesting dynamic. It's like any crisis. It can either bring people closer together or tear them apart. It can be short term or long term. Right now, so that it is not overwhelming, I think it is great for you to find some outside support and use some kind of mindfulness to deal with you first. You can't fix everything right now, but you can make sure that you take care of yourself first, because, if you don't, you can't be a good support for your mother. It would be like watching someone drown (in your case, multiple people) and trying to save everyone so that you are being pulled down too. If you don't take care of yourself first, no one will survive. 

So take care of yourself. Focus then on what you can do for your mother. The others can either get on board or not. It is not your responsibility. I know that is easier said than done. I have the same issue with doing that, but that is where something like meditation comes in. It's a real art to be able to let things go. This is not something that will come to you overnight. 

As has been said, we are with you. 

Laughter is a lifestyle choice. www.laughterandcancer.com/blog

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by MCoaster on Mar 14, 2020 11:10 am

reddishdragon‍   Just checking to see how you and your mom are.  

 I am inclined to overthink issues and get so bogged down that I cannot move forward and end up getting deeper into the bog .   Other here have mentioned mindfulness which helps to refocus so that it is possible to move forward.   If you have not yet tried it it may be useful to both you and your mom.

Please keep in touch.  
We are here for you.

Kind hugs.


Re: Family Imploding

Posted by NannaM on Mar 14, 2020 11:15 am

Dear  reddishdragon; Your post resonated with me very deeply. My family has been totally dysfunctional going back many generations, and, as with your situation, the implosion really showed up when my Cancer did. 
I am the mom in the picture, and just as you described your mom with such insight,  "my Mom is doing the best she can at trying to communicate but because our dysfunction is rooted in our upbringing and my siblings and I have developed complex coping mechanisms it isn't always effective.  For all of what she managed to accomplish in her humble life, my Mom has mostly been afraid and this fear and inability to set boundaries has had an impact on her children.  We are used to half-truths or no response at all so it is hard to know what is real and what isn't.  These are coping mechanisms my Mom developed to survive her life challenges and now that we are in this serious situation it is creating an environment that is escalating towards even more heart break. "
Shutting down and shutting our has been my modus operandi my whole life. Painful things were just too painful to bring out into the open, especially seeing as my parents also shut down and shut out and just didn't want to know my feelings or problems. So I am sitting in the same seat that your mom is sitting in - a lot of fear, anxiety and grief and unable to share with my daughters because they are so fearful themselves they cannot hear. 
Counselling for me has helped, but it hasn't healed. Your posting has been a wakeup call for me, especially in light of the COVID-19 scare.  It's time for me to initiate the talk, probably with the help of a mediator.  Jung said "what is not brought into consciousness, comes to us as fate". I think your mom and I, my daughters and you and your siblings are seeing this play out before our eyes. 
Thank you.

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Laika57 on Mar 14, 2020 12:38 pm

Spending a high school year abroad, with three different families, has taught me all families are dysfunctional. And I was happy to go home to my own. Still I ended up living on a different continent with someone none of them approved of. It took some time to gain a perspective and understanding of the issues our family grew up with. And I am still working on overcoming them. My siblings have started families and are now noticing the "baggage" because it is impacting their own families. my brother is in counseling, my sister flops from denial to anger, the other sister is still blissfully unaware.
point being, you have to do what is right for you. You see the dysfunction, you see its causes. But you can only change yourself.
When or how others gain the realization that something has to give is not in your hands.
Nothing wrong with communicating how you are feeling, just try and do it in such a way that it remains an expression, not a judgement or a call to action. (And yeah, you won't always be able to foresee how others react)
be the best person you can be, but accept you aren't perfect. Don't feel guilty about steps you need to take to preserve your sanity. Be it withdrawing, counseling or starting a fight. I find a good yelling match can be therapeutic, even if you yell at an undeserving tree - they may have long memories, but don't carry grudges.
When my husband was in hospital with delirium, he grew so demanding it stressed me to a point close to having my own mental breakdown. Turning the phone off and not visiting for a day or two, re-set some boundaries and gave me space to compose myself. I felt bad at the time for doing it, but carrying on as I was would have destroyed me and our relationship... we're still strained, but mending.
Have you hugged your dog today?

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by jorola on Mar 14, 2020 1:51 pm

Welcome reddishdragon‍ and I am so glad you reached out and shared your story. Personally, I agree, every family has a level of dysfunction in it, mine included
You are right, sounds like your Mom does need to set boundaries but if years of being afraid to and learned coping mechanisms did not include that, I worry this will not happened unless your Mom finds the sudden strength to do so.
You are also right in all you can control is yourself. However is there a way to set up independent communication just between you and your mom - free of the others? Or does the communication issue spread right across all avenues?
If you can have private time with your Mom you can give her support and love during that time. Your Mom may stress about what the other siblings say about it but you can just ensure your visits are positive and that the other siblings or problems are never discussed when you visit. That way if the siblings ask your Mom can truthfully report it was a lovely visit and nothing bad was said about anyone. Keep the focus on her - where it should be and not the drama.
Otherwise, I agree with the others who posted, just take care of you. It is what you should and need to do. You cannot change the others so why worry and spend energy on it? I know from experience changing to this way of thinking does not happen over night. If I found my r mind wandering to this subject, I'd stop and go do another activity to get my mind reset. I found this very helpful in stopping myself from going there and stressing over thinking I had no control over. May this will work for you?
I don't know if this has been helpful or not but I hope so. Sometimes you just have to let go of the negativity and deal with what's left.
All the best,

Live, Laugh, Love

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Lianne_adminCCS on Mar 18, 2020 3:30 pm


I am very sorry to hear of your mom’s diagnosis and the family dynamics surrounding it. Unfortunately, when a family ( or person ) is dysfunctional ( your words ), a cancer diagnosis doesn’t change that and in fact often amplifies it.
We can rarely change the behaviors of others but we can try to manage how we respond to it.

I know it has only been a few days but I wanted to check in and see how you are doing.

Let us know when you are able. We are listening


Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Cynthia Mac on Mar 21, 2020 8:46 am

reddishdragon‍ , my Dad is the one in my family with cancer. When he was diagnosed, and chose me to be his primary caregiver, I tried my best to keep communication lines open with my siblings and my sister accompanied us on many appointments and his surgery day.

For some reason, “they” (the siblings) have always resented me, and I was the “withdrawer” in the mix. I wanted nothing to do with the drama or the conflict, so I just withdrew. It sounds as though you are the “withdrawer” in your family. Chances are you also have the “squeaky wheel,” and the “right fighter.”

I was in an emotionally abusive relationship a decade or so ago, and the counsellor made two recommendations to me. The first was to “get out of my own head,” and that’s when I learned about Jon Kabat-Zinn, an author who has written several books about mindfulness and meditation (I was already aware of Louise Hay and I just added another of her books to my Audible library.) The second was to “break the cycle.” We had formed a pattern, and she said, “the only way to break that pattern is to change yourself - how you view it, how you speak about it, and how you react to it.” Sure enough, as soon as I learned a few tips for working with his personality type and started using them, he had no choice but to change, and I was able to get better clarity about what I needed to do. This enabled me to withdraw from that relationship from a position of strength, rather than a position of “running away.”

My view on sibling relationships is that we don’t get a choice about those people being brought into our life. While we have an obligation to love them for who they are (a brother or a sister), they are individuals who, even though they were raised in the same household, can have very diverse values, opinions and attitudes (as you know!)

The advice you got to focus solely on your Mom and your relationship is awesome. I had to do that with my Dad for a while recently - just him and me, no questions about the siblings or their offspring. It turned out that Dad had been “making conversation” with them and passing along some of my comments when we’d been talking about them, so I just stopped making any comments or discussing them at all. That way, there was no way for him to accidentally say, “Cynthia said...” Why upset an apple cart?  This goes back to my comment above — again, when I changed, Dad had to change.

I hope you’re able to develop some strategies to help you strengthen your relationship with your Mom, and to the sibling(s) who put forth the “tirade.” If I can offer any help to that end, please chime in - and please come back to let us know how you and your Mom are doing.
“When the root is deep, there is no reason to fear the wind.” - Japanese saying

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by reddishdragon on Apr 9, 2020 1:35 pm

Thank you so much to everyone for your kindness, compassion and sharing a little of your own stories which make me feel that I really am not alone.  I'm sorry that I haven't been on here sooner to give updates but, as I am sure you all understand, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind.

Due to the COVID-19 issues, I have been mandated to work from home and, fortunately, my supervisor said that working from my house or my Mom's house made no difference to him so I was able to spend a couple of weeks at her house.  This allowed me to spend time with my Mom while she is still "her" as well as provide some respite for my sister, who is the primary care giver.

MCoaster‍ asked if we had access to support outside the family.  Apparently there are some through the cancer clinic but so far no one has done anything about it. 

Kims1961‍  asked if Mom has a treatment plan and yes, she does.  She had some radiation last week and is scheduled for more next week.  You also asked about whether I could spend time with her to find out what her expectations, hopes and worries are.  During the time I spent with her last week, she was very tired because of the symptoms she was experiencing and the radiation treatments.  I am going to spend another couple of weeks with her when I hope to talk to her a bit more.

NannaM‍  I am so glad if my sharing helped you to see something that might help your own family.

I have been mostly successful at trying to concentrate on myself and not take ownership of the behaviour and emotions of others.  I am also trying to separate my emotions from others.

Something that we are now struggling with is figuring out how to support my Mom.  My Mom has a tendency to exploit opportunities that make her the center of attention and we are trying to figure out if she is really that tired or if she is playing it up to have us fluttering around trying to attend to her every need and whim.  Remember that dysfunction I was talking about?  Mom is selective about what she shares with each of her children and how she shares it.  A lot of times she contradicts herself and this caused a lot of drama when we were children.  Now that we are trying to navigate her care it is creating confusion.  She accused me of treating her like a child when I was trying to do stuff for her and she accused my sister-in-law of treating her like a child because she was trying to encourage some healthy habits.

Mom's team said she would be pretty tired for a couple of weeks.  Does that mean she should just stay in bed or sitting all the time? She got bed sores from sitting in a hospital bed for a week so we are getting that looked after by home care but she doesn't want to try any of the things that might help aid her comfort or recovery other than these special bandages that are supposed to help.  A few weeks ago Mom was gasping for air and having difficulty talking because there was something pressing on her esophagus.  After five radiation treatments, she said she cold feel a change and has had some good periods and bad periods but we have noticed that when something happens that she is unhappy about, the gasping and hoarse voice return.

This sounds so much like "blaming the victim" and I hate to be mean to the stage four cancer patient, but how do we know what's real and what's not?  Mom is so used to playing these games and not recognizing that these manipulations have an affect on our ability to care for her that we don't know what to do.  We even found out recently that she was blatantly lying to her GP about her smoking for the past couple of years.

It's all really confusing.

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by WestCoastSailor on Apr 10, 2020 12:31 pm


Sometimes I think family relationships are some of the toughest things to sort out. A question that helps me sort out the challenges sometimes - "How important is it?" If it isn't important don't invest anything more into it. If it is important then sometimes a change of perspective will help you make good choices that support the importance. Helping folks do something that they can't do for themselves is one thing. Doing things for them though that they can do for themselves turns them into invalids.

My story: http://journey.anguspratt.ca

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by reddishdragon on Apr 10, 2020 6:20 pm

Thank you for that insight.  It rings true.

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by mchesher on Apr 11, 2020 6:31 am

This is tough to read, the last thing your poor mom needs is more stress.  Stay strong, unfortunately people expose their true selves in crisis, both good and bad.  From what you’ve said, your mom has her faults too.  Now isn’t the time however.  Try your best to get her moving when/if possible, easier said then done but every little bit helps.  Focusing on her treatment and hopeful recovery is the only way to go.

ill caveat this, I’ve never been in your shoes personally, so just do your best.  It’s all any of us can do.  Good luck.

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by reddishdragon on Jun 15, 2020 6:57 am

MCoaster, Runner Girl, Kims1961, cancertakesflight, NannaM, Laika57, jorola, Lianne_adminCCS, Cynthia Mac, WestCoastSailor, mchesher 
Thank you again for your words of support.  Mom died on May 26.  We had a horrific experience with the hospice and Home Care, exacerbated by COVID 19.  My head is swimming with details but it makes me want to vomit when I think about trying to share them.  We were given incorrect and/or partial information and then patronized by these institutions as we were just trying to do for Mom what we knew she wanted.  Ultimately, we were able to bring Mom home and she passed away peacefully in her own home with her dog by her side.

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Cynthia Mac on Jun 15, 2020 9:50 am

reddishdragon‍ , I am sorry to hear of your mom’s passing, and the trials that preceded it. There’s no need to share those details unless you need to vent them - please don’t make yourself feel sick about events of the past. I hope you can take comfort in that your Mom passed away peacefully and at home.

Your mom passed away the same weekend my Dad was admitted to hospital. He’s been there ever since, and the doctors are still trying to determine the cause(s) of his condition.

The tags in your post didn’t take, so I’m going to set them up for  MCoaster‍, Runner Girl‍ , Kims1961‍ , cancertakesflight‍ , Laika57‍ , NannaM‍ , jorola‍ , Lianne_adminCCS,‍ WestCoastSailor‍  , mchesher‍ 
“When the root is deep, there is no reason to fear the wind.” - Japanese saying

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Runner Girl on Jun 15, 2020 11:02 am

reddishdragon‍ ,

I am so very sorry to learn of your Mom's passing.  Whether it is expected or not, losing your Mom is a heart wrenching experience.  Try not to dwell on the mechanics of it, know that she left surrounded by love, that she is no longer suffering, and will now serve as your guardian angel.

I lost my Mom suddenly and unexpectedly in January, 2018.  Just 4 days before her birthday.  A few months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I heard her whisper in my head that she was holding it in place, that it wasn't going anywhere - and that was correct.  I had 3 tumors but they'd not spread to the lymph nodes.

Be kind to yourself these next few days as everything sinks in and the emotions flow.  Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Runner Girl
Never stop believing in HOPE because MIRACLES happen every day!

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by WestCoastSailor on Jun 15, 2020 11:59 am


Horrific hospice stories abound. I am truly sorry that you had those experiences around your mother's dying. I appreciate you coming back and letting us know that your mother died. While the end result was gentle the process of getting there sounds horrible.

Sometimes venting here in this anonymous place can be cathartic. Let your anger spill out here if you need to. Many of us have been there.

If you have ideas or questions that might make someone else's experience better, it may make you feel better to share them here. Some one else may be able to benefit and have a better experience as a result.

Thanks again for your willingness to share.

My story: http://journey.anguspratt.ca

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Lianne_adminCCS on Jun 15, 2020 12:44 pm


I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your mom and the circumstances leading up to her passing. I hope it was of some comfort that she ultimately passed at home surrounded  by the love of family and her dog.

Thank you for your candor and willingness to share your family situation and eventual passing of your mom. As was talked about after your original post, family dysfunction is all too common and doesn't usually go away with a cancer diagnosis. With you expressing that in your post, it will likely help someone else who may not be so brave to post.

I hope you will continue to come here for support as you need. We have a group called Coping with Grief https://cancerconnection.ca/groups/home/82  that may be helpful to you. Maybe not right away but it will be here should you need it and us.

Take care

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Laika57 on Jun 15, 2020 1:46 pm

reddishdragon‍ my heart goes out to you.
stay strong. Hug the dog. Remember the good days. 
Have you hugged your dog today?

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by Kims1961 on Jun 15, 2020 1:51 pm

reddishdragon‍ I am so sorry for the loss of your mom and the experience you had surrounding that.  That being said, the idea of dying at home with her dog by her side - is such a beautiful gift.  Somehow , throughout the chaos you experienced, you were able to provide her peace for her final days.  What love that is.

Thank you for sharing. Please keep us posted on how you are doing - when you feel able.  There may be a day where the words flow and you can write out the memories.  Don't rush it - take your time.  Grief is like a storm on the waters - it can come crushing down - or you may have some calm days between storms.  We are here if you need us.

Take care, Kim
Her2+, ER+ Bilateral mastectomy in 2017, followed by chemo and radiation. Mack and Hannah's mom

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by reddishdragon on Jun 15, 2020 11:02 pm

Thank you to everyone for your support.  I will absolutely come back to elaborate on our experience in the hope that other people can learn and hopefully avoid similar experiences.  In the meantime, I appreciate the humanity in your responses.  Cynthia Mac thank you so much for tagging everyone in my post that I was trying to contact.

Re: Family Imploding

Posted by jorola on Jun 15, 2020 11:38 pm

My deepest sympathies reddishdragon‍ on the loss of your mother. Hold memories of her close to your heart and she will always be with you.
Live, Laugh, Love