I do not agree with Carolyn Hax’s advice on discussing cancer and death with your family, offered last Sunday in her column in the Washington Post’s Style section. PJ Hamel wrote an awesome response summarizing the column and advice from Carolyn, which you should check out.
Here’s what I think. I think Carolyn doesn’t understand what it feels like to be part of a family dealing with a family member who is going through cancer. I didn’t either, when I first wanted to discuss dying with my family.
The woman who is asking Carolyn Hax for advice, “V,” wants to know why her family is putting their heads in the sand every time she asks a question relating to her death. At age 27, and living with advanced, metastatic breast cancer, I have gone through the exact same thing. My doctors have told me the time I have left and what age I should expect to die. I only recently turned 27.
I had to deal with that, and I went through the same problem of discussing my death. I would want to talk to my family about my death and also what I want in terms of being cremated and not burried and also my clothes, etc. And, I would not get a response.
For me, it was like everyone was ignoring me. I even got really irritated with them, because I felt like all they were doing was trying to give me hope and telling me to “hang in there” and things like that. And, in reality, I just wanted them to accept my fate and talk to me about it.
I kept pushing and pushing the subject of my death until my mom lost it and said this to me:
"Nat, I will never ever accept or understand the death of my child I’m not going to talk to you about your plans when you die or what you want. It is not something that I can talk about especially with you.
"Have you ever seen me cry since you have been sick? Have you seen me lay in bed depressed over your problem? Well, you haven’t and you won’t ever. I as your mother and your dad, brothers and the entire family is here to make you happy and make your time left with us a great experience.
“Everyone understands your fate and the severity of your disease, but no one will let you see them suffer for you, and no one will talk to you about your death.”
I totally understood at that point what my mom meant, and I could understand where my family was coming from. No one was trying to stick their heads in the sand and not accept my demise. They were just letting me know that they did this because they wanted to make me happy.
I finally got it, and I stopped talking about my dying with them.
Now I just want to keep positive and have good thoughts, and if I die I die, but it’s not going to be today or tomorrow , so I have to enjoy my life with my family and not continuously discuss my demise.
Thinking about V’s question for Carolyn Hax in the Washington Post, I understand where her family is coming from. It is hard for her family to accept her fate, and they don’t want to accept her fate.
They are especially not going to discuss it with V because she is the one that is suffering, so there is no point in her suffering for her family if they start getting upset.
V would suffer for her disease and also would suffer because she is making her family suffer. And they have to try their hardest and focus all their energy on making her happy for whatever time she has left.
I disagree with Carolyn, because instead of helping V understand why her family is being that way, she just explained why V’s family shouldn’t do that and told V to press her family to discuss her death, which is not an answer. It is just advice on how V should ask and to keep asking.
Unlike Carolyn, I would have advised V that her family is aware of the problem at hand, but their mission is to give her strength and make her happy. Talking about V’s death and what should happen in the event of her death is accepting it and basically telling her it’s ok to die, and we’re with you… that does not give her hope and basically gives her the ok to not fight and accept that cancer equals death, and that’s is not the case for everyone.
Many people have survived cancer and even if you will die you have to fight for your life and try to enjoy yourself as much as you can.