How do you deal with a family member who, at stage IV, still insists on keeping cancer a secret?

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My mother lives 300 miles away, and has asked me not to tell other family members. I want to respect her wishes for privacy, but I know she needs help, and other family members live in the area.

Answers 1 to 10 of 11
What sort of help does your mother need? Can you not ask other family members to support her without disclosing anything about her illness?

And I do mean anything. If your mother has given you this information in confidence then it isn't a matter of wanting to respect her privacy - you are obliged to respect the confidentiality. Anything else would be wholly unethical.

Having said that, and I hope I have been unambiguous, there is nothing to stop you doing your best to persuade your mother to change her mind. What does she hope to gain from this secrecy?
Top Answer
Susane, I can fully understand why your Mom wants to keep her cancer a secret from others.... she is probably from that generation where any type of serious illness, especially cancer, is hush hush... a misunderstood disease... lot of whispering behind backs... it was almost like back then some thought they could catch cancer from others. Both my parents had/have cancer but never told me until years after the fact.

Today people want to know if any relative has had cancer to help themselves with medical lineage... to do extra medical testing to catch the cancer early. If I had known my parents both had cancer I could have caught mine much earlier.

Yet on the other side of the coin, I've kept my cancer secret from my parents and from relatives [I have no siblings]. I think the shock of me having this disease would be too much for my parents to digest.

Respect your Mom's privacy... but have other close relatives to call to chat with her, maybe she might say something to them later down the road.
I think it matters what the prognosis is and what her treatment options are going forward. Stage four is not good, but with some cancers it is still treatable and is not an immediate death sentence. Does she mean to keep it to herself just until she has had a better chance to feel she has a handle on her needs and emotions, or does she mean not to tell ever?
People are going to know things aren't right, and they are going to talk a speculate about it. I have a good friend whose mother died of cancer shortly after her wedding 30 some years ago. To this day she and her family insist that no one told them she had cancer and that her illness was terminal. Serious denial maybe, but I think her mom didn't want to spoil her special moment. The thing is everyone seemed to know and were talking about it, but couldn't offer any support or comfort because it was all a big secret and the family denied it when asked.
I agree you have to respect your mom's wishes, for now at least. But try to find out why she feels the need for secrecy, and encourage her to share, at least with those closest to her.
I understand.
I remember my grandmothers both had breast cancer, late in life. One opted for treatment (mastectomy) and fully recovered. I was only told AFTER she had died (from old age, years later) that she'd had that. It was important to MY health "genetics" too, so I kind of didn't like that as a 20+ yo woman, this was kept a secret. My other gma also had it. She opted at age 91 to not treat. It was not the cause of her death. Again, no one was told. I "get" the age and era when cancer wasn't even discussed with the PATIENT...but you can go too far. Respect whom you tell, and how you tell them, but immediate family should know. My husband had Primary Liver Cancer. We told those people we knew would be supportive. It wasn't a state secret, but we didn't blast it from the rooftops either. We needed emotional support and we told people who would give us that. Just be aware that people don't judge, they want to know so they can help.
Cancer is a private thing. Some people are very open with it, but others choose not to say anything. It is their own decision. Some people choose not to tell others about the cancer because they don't want to be seen as weak or a victim. People act different when they learn you have cancer.

It is really very common for people and other animals who are ill to try to hide it as long as possible. For people there are many reasons, including the one already mentioned -- the desire to not be seen as sick and pitiable. Another is to protect the people close to you who might sacrifice too much to try to help. Another is so that they won't worry. Ultimately, though, I would leave it up to the person to decide who to tell and when. I just hope your siblings don't get upset with you for staying quiet.
Midkid, Good Answer! But I still think that Mom needs to be encouraged to decide to tell only whom she wishes to. Its a tough one! And one way to get her to spill, is to speak about how she Will Need an increase in care, that these people Love her, and that family hereditary issues can ensue, if she isn't open about her decision to keep quiet. How would she feel if little Sally didn't get tested for a disease that she could have prevented with advanced warning and testing. Breast Cancer marker can now be done before symptoms even appear! I know that it may not be breast cancer, but many ithe cancers too! People will still respect her! Try to convince her, for your own good!
This post is from 2015.
It is not my intention, ever, to post new information on an older post.

If admin has taken off the dates of the contibutions for their own reasons, or an error, I will not be posting.

Rationale: Our contributions as caregivers are timely and for that time only.
It could greatly offend an original poster to come back and find ongoing advice
directed just for their loved one, maybe years after they died.
And so many other reasons, that no one can predict.

I don't have cancer, but it is a very personal thing to the persons that I know who do have stage IV cancer. That is why I just said, "I understand".
Sendme2help, you make an excellent point about writing on a thread to give advice to an older thread [not everyone looks at the date of the original posting] and to give advice for a person who has probably passed.

To me, the time line is so very important.
Wow. What happened to the times on this. All we see is the original date.

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