Dad not coping with Mum's Diagnosis.

First post here, hoping someone has had a similar experience or can offer advice or support.

My mum recently got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and my Dad isn't coping very well with the situation. He is a pessimist and not able to deal with his emotions, as a result his approach to "Supporting her" focuses purely on prevention of a terminal diagnosis, rather than the emotional support or other day to day tasks. 

He is terrified of the possibility of her dying and is doing everything to try to control it, but as a result he is creating stress, a negative environment, daily arguments and making my mum feel upset and guilty for causing so much hassle by being ill. Ironically, his need to fix it, is making it worse.

He is obsessed with preventing infection, and with nutrition, but is unable to support her emotionally, and to be honest, physically. He is almost certainly suffering from depression or similar, and finds it difficult to complete day to day tasks, to remember things he needs to do, or to plan meals etc. He is fixated on statistics, the worst case scenarios, research and cancer prevention, lecturing her all the time about what she eats (Shes healthy already and her consultant agrees), and things she needs to be doing or else she won't recover. 

She is such a positive person and has an amazing support system of friends and family, but his behavior is clearly dragging her down. She starts chemo in two days and I dread to think how this will affect her once she has the physical drain as well as the mental drain to deal with. As she currently feels fine (Caught early, no symptoms) it will also be a huge shock to her system as I don't think it has fully sunk in yet. I myself have suffered from chronic stress and I know the effects it can have on mental and physical health. I don't want her dealing with that on top of the physical strains of chemotherapy. 

Me and my brother (both adults) are currently living at home and doing what we can to help, taking over with day to day tasks, meals, etc, but we also work from home and try as we might, we can't counteract the stress he causes with his constant negativity, or the things he says to her day to day.

My dad will not seek help - he believes that since counselling can't get rid of the cancer, it can't help him. He doesn't have his own support network, he doesn't really have any friends, and he is incapable of opening up about his emotions. He refuses that he has a problem but also thinks that his problems don't matter anyway because my mum's is more serious. The thing is, him getting support would actually be the best thing he could do for the family.  We just don't know how to help him. 

We are concerned about how he is affecting my mum but also how it will affect him if the worst happens. 

How can i support my mum through this to keep her as stress free as possible? And how can I help my dad or counteract his behaviour? 

Any words of support/ experiences welcome. Thank you 

  • Hi and welcome to the online community although I'm very sorry that you've had to find us.

    I don't have the experience you're after as I was the one with cancer but I thought I'd pop on and recommend that you also join and post in the family and friends group. It's a great place to share your feelings and get support from others who will understand what you and your family are going through.

    If you'd like to do that just click on the link I've created and then choose 'join this group' on the page that opens. You can then copy and paste your post from here after selecting 'start a discussion' and join in with existing conversations by clicking on 'reply'. 

    Do you think you could get your dad to sit down with you and have a look through this information from Macmillan on emotional support for family members and also this on emotional support for carers?

    He might also benefit from looking at this booklet on looking after someone with cancer which can be downloaded or sent away for.

    When you have a minute, it would be really useful if you could pop something about your mum's journey so far into your profile as it really helps others when answering or looking for someone with a similar diagnosis. It also means that you don't have to keep repeating yourself. To do this click on your username and then select 'Edit Profile'. You can amend it at any time and if you're not sure what to write you can take a look at mine by clicking on my username.

    Sending a supportive ((hug))

    What is a Community Champion?

     "Never regret a day in your life, good days give you happiness, bad days give you experience"
  • Hi , latchbrook has given you some good links there. I am a patient and I must say that talking with family members or others about cancer wasn’t always easy at the start. My husband was trying to be strong for me and not showing and emotion, he did it as he didn’t want to show he was vulnerable, I wanted him to show he cared, I read the emotional support pages and the talking about cancer and we had a long chat. I don’t know if your Mum could do the same and I’m so glad our discussion worked for us and brought us closer together. For people I knew where I used to work, when I went back and visited they would say common things that would just rub me up the wrong way, I didn’t feel I could talk to them about it but perhaps a bit passive aggressively I got hold of a Macmillan booklet about support someone with cancer and left it on a coffee table in the hopes they might read and pick up some pointers.

    Your points are so well written above that I wonder if your felt that you could support your Mum talking to him or do it instead but I hasten to add I am not experienced in your family dynamics or counselling. My local cancer centre ran courses for both patients and carers though and have done them on line during lockdown, They might also be a place to start with emotional support for either your Mum, Dad or you and your brother. It sounds like it is not going to be easy coping with working from home and giving support. 

    I hope some of that helps and that you do join some of the groups latchbrook suggested.

    Take care


    What is a Community Champion?

    You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or contact them by email.

  • Hi ,

    I'm sorry that you have found yourself having to join this group but you are very welcome.  My apologies for not responding to your post earlier as I did see it on the day you posted but could not work out how to respond.

    I think my difficulty comes from a number of places.  As you say your father's behaviour is very controlling and that reminded me very much of coercive and controlling behaviours from domestic abuse scenarios.   In many of those cases the basis of this is the fear and insecurity of the perpetrator just as your dad's behaviour is, but whereas theirs is a fantasy that there partner would choose to leave them your dad is worried about the same thing but caused by your mother's illness and is obviously coming from a place of love.

    Hopefully 's excellent suggestions about the information available and about groups has helped.  Your mum will hopefully have started her chemo by now and you will be gradually finding out what the effects on her are in terns of side effects.  There is a Chemotherapy group if you want to ask any questions about it.  Just click here to go to the group.  If you mention what chemo your mum is undergoing you will hopefully get some information about how it has affected others and what has helped.

    It is difficult to think of any other way to address your Dad's behaviour other than by his reading the materials or by confronting him which does not appear to have worked to date.

    There is the Macmillan helpline on 0808 808 00 00 which is excellent for offering support.  You might want to try calling them as they have lots of experience and have probably come across this situation before.  They do also offer practical advice such as claiming on insurances, benefits, employment rights etc and you might be able to get your Dad to ring them by advising him that this service is available.

    When I mentioned about confronting him earlier it is difficult to do but he will now be being confronted by the reality of cancer. One of the common side effects is a loss of appetite and it may be that your Dad has to rethink things a bit when faced with the choice of your mum having a plate of something healthy that she cannot eat or something that she might be able to stomach like ice cream or rice pudding just so that she get some calories.  Of the behaviour you mention about your father the only one which seems to be of any use currently is the infection prevention.  Your mum will obviously be more vulnerable than usual to infections during her treatment.  Preventing cancer is a bit late once you've got it and it is the treatment which will prevent it being terminal.

    As a patient I do not actually worry too much about the treatment as worrying about it will not change how effective it is, neither will being positive.  However, it is my attitude to things outside of cancer that have kept me moving forward.  I wanted to make sure that my son, who was 9 when I was diagnosed as incurable, had a good life, all the opportunities he could have and good memories of me if I did die.  I wanted to be confident that my wife was secure and in a position to look after herself and our son.  I also wanted to have the time to enjoy myself by travelling and going on holiday in the time I had rather than focussing on the cancer and waiting to die.  I'm glad I did as it has been over five years now and I would have lost out on a lot if my life if I had stopped looking forwards.  That is not to say that I have not struggled emotionally at times. I have what we often call "pity parties" where I get depressed but rather than fighting against I embrace it, think of the worst possibilities, cry until I get fed up of being down and come out of the other side feeling better and ready to get on with life again.  It usually takes two or three hours.

    I'm sorry I can't offer much in the way of advice or support.  Most of the things that could be of benefit for your dad require him to recognise that he needs some support and help in re-evaluating what is important.  It may be that your mum will end up being the one having to confront him as what we want as patients from our friends and family depends so much on our own personalities.  Apart from my wife who knew about my diagnosis from the start, when I told my family, friends and colleagues I also told them how I thought I wanted them to treat me but with my apologies and a proviso that I might change my mind later.  It might be an idea for you to ask your mum to tell all of you at the same time how she wants you to treat her.  I recognised that people would want to know how I was and how treatment was going but both gave them permission to ask and requested that as soon as this had been talked about we could focus on normal things and not just my cancer, I did not want recommendations of miracle treatments (such as cannabis oil, homeopathy and turmeric), or stories of people who had surprisingly recovered (from cancers usually different from mine) as I would not sit politely listening to what I thought was rubbish.  If others choose to believe it that is fine just don't share it with me.  I wanted to be more than just a cancer patient.  It is important to us as people to be able to support others and I did not want to lose my role as husband, father, friend and colleague to this disease.  I still wanted to be valued as I am, not for what I was or might be again.

    Once again I am sorry if I have waffled on but I did not want to leave your post without replying but don't know if any of what I have said is useful.  I think at the very least I wanted to acknowledge what a difficult situation you are in and reassure you that you are doing a good job.  Providing you keep listening to what your mum wants you cannot go too far wrong.

    I hope your mum's treatment is going well and wish you and your family al the best,

    Gragon xx