Q. My mother has cancer in the brain, and she is acting like a completely different person, not her normal friendly loving self. During the holidays, how can I cope with basically sitting at the dinner table with my mom not being herself?

A.

Caring for family is a natural part of our life journey, and the care that we give, even when challenging, offers us a way to bond with loved ones. It may help to have people with you who can support and comfort you as you look after your mother. Having a friend at hand who is there for you could help alleviate your feelings of stress. Ask other relatives or friends of your mother to spend time with her, so that you do not bear all the weight of her needs. It may be helpful to focus on what there is to be grateful for, such as your mother’s presence, having friends and other family, and that you are together and safe. You may not be able to change your mother’s behavior, but you can schedule time for yourself to do things that will bring you joy.

During holiday time most of us would like to experience the same comforting things that we have had in years past, so it stands to reason that it would be difficult to cope with changes you are seeing in your mother. It would be helpful to know whether the changes in her behavior are the result of a physical change to her brain or are the consequences of fear and anxiety about her diagnosis.

  • A person diagnosed with a brain tumor may exhibit changes in behavior and thinking that may include mild memory loss, mood swings, or intense emotional outbursts. Where the tumor is located, the type of medication (such as chemotherapy and steroids), and the amount of stress that a person is feeling could cause these types of changes.
  • Talking with your mother, asking her what she is thinking and feeling, is an important first step. Is she aware that her behavior has changed?
  • Then, discuss changes in personality or behavior with her doctor to rule out a medical cause and make any adjustment to medications if that is needed. The change in her personality may be a sign that she is struggling emotionally with her diagnosis. A brain tumor diagnosis can bring up many feelings, including anxiety, anger, or sadness. Since you are a person who your mother is close to and who she feels safe with, those feelings may be directed towards you. Letting her know how her behavior is affecting you and seeking support can be very helpful.
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