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Q. My mother is 71 and was recently diagnosed with cancer that has spread to her lymph nodes. She has always been a bit difficult and very impatient. I am trying my best to be everything to her, but it seems no matter what I say or do, she thinks I'm condescending, or annoying or unwilling to help. I suggested a therapist or support group could help, and she got furious with me. I've read that anger and emotions are normal after a diagnosis, but she truly seems out of control. Any advice on how I can communicate effectively with her?


Uncertainty is one of the most challenging emotions that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Not only does the individual diagnosed have to cope with the emotional and practical challenges, but also the caregiver. People often feel so anxious that they become agitated if they do not get answers to their questions quickly. As you explained, many times, individuals will displace their anger. Unfortunately, it is much easier to be angry at someone than cope with the many mixed emotions accompanying a cancer diagnosis.

Caregiving is very challenging, especially as you are doing all you can for her. As you already did, letting her know that resources are out there is immensely helpful, even if she became angry. While she may think these services aren’t necessary now, you have let her know that support is available when she is ready.

Also, as much as possible, take care of yourself. If you have insurance, reach out to your company and see if they can provide you with a list of therapists in your network. Therefore, you can have a place to process the emotional highs and lows of caregiving. Also, find time for self-care. This can be an extra five minutes in the shower, a nice walk, or mindfully sipping your coffee in the morning.

Lastly, I would like to share with you the Caregiver Bill of Rights written by Jo Horne. It is an ongoing reminder that outlines the rights belonging to those caregiving for a loved one.

One of my favorite lines is, “I have the right to get angry, be depressed, and express other difficult feelings occasionally.” Remember, you are also learning to navigate this “new normal” of caregiving and going through the highs and lows. Often, people will print it out and tape it on their mirror or keep it in their wallets.

If you have any further questions, please contact CancerCare’s Hopeline at 800-813-4673. An oncology social worker will be able to guide you further on resources in your area and CancerCare services. We offer free online support groups that can be helpful as you will share with other individuals also navigating caregiving challenges.

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