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Topic: Sister diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer--complex situation

Forum: Caring for Someone with Breast cancer —

A place to share your struggles and concerns about supporting and caring for a person you love diagnosed with breast cancer with others who understand.

Posted on: Mar 21, 2019 06:24PM - edited Mar 21, 2019 06:30PM by zastrugi22

zastrugi22 wrote:

Hello to everyone,

I was wondering if there is anyone on here who is familiar with a similar situation as mine, or what people's thought are on this. Basically my sister and I have a very estranged relationship due to a variety of complex reasons (her alcoholism and bipolar issues have put a strain on a number of relationships in her life). There are many people in her life that have not been giving her emotional support post-diagnosis due to a lot of burned bridges that took place pre-diagnosis, but I felt as though I really tried to step up to the plate for her in her time of need--it's what felt right, but as time wore on, the dynamics in the situation have reverted back to the status quo--in other words, she has chosen to be very uncommunicative towards me, to the point of, I feel, ignoring me. I even sent her an invitation to a movie blog I have, in the hopes that she would contribute some writing on there and maybe act as an enjoyable diversion for her, but she has ignored these gestures. I tried to be inclusive a few other times as well, but again, I am met with a wall of silence, and I can't help but to feel like I'm being treated unfairly or that I am again on the receiving end of repeating behavioral patterns (from her) that will eventually cause a communication breakdown which is basically where it's at now. I feel that I should not be the only one making an effort, especially in light of all the dynamics, so I gave her my number (again) and told her she could call or text anytime she wanted (which I doubt she will which puts me in a really uncomfortable situation). This has been a very emotionally confusing situation for me and others in my family, and I have to I'm feeling pretty hurt by how things developed or didn't develop in this case--it seems like her cancer diagnosis didn't cause things to change or shift enough enough to facilitate any real or lasting change in regard to her relationship with me. I still wish her the best possible outcome with everything and will try to be supportive from a distance, but I feel as though it's really up to her the make the next move and to try to stay in touch with me as well--this needs to be a two-way street.

Best of luck and healing thoughts to everyone on this forum!

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Mar 21, 2019 07:46PM santabarbarian wrote:

If she is currently being treated, it is unlikely to become a two-way street any time soon. It may be a one way street for at least 6-8 months (which is how long the stage 3 treatments can take).

I applaud your desire to be warm towards a difficult sister in her time of need. I think that's a very moral, kind instinct and it MIGHT over time open a door. But please do not look for reciprocation in the near term.

If I was you, I would figure out what degree of helpfulness or supportiveness you can stick with and continue to offer with NO reciprocation. That might be arm's length-- sending supportive texts and emails or a card every once in a while. Or, that might be bringing her home-cooked food or stopping by and cleaning up her apartment. Or getting her a credit at a favorite restaurant that delivers. Or offering to drive her to an appointment like surgery where you can't drive yourself.

When a person is going through treatment, she will probably not be feeling very energetic, let alone sociable... plus it sounds like she was UN-sociable to begin with. So while I think it would be kind and good to offer encouraging words or supportive deeds, if you expect to see progress in how you are being treated by her-- a mentally ill alcoholic chemo patient-- you are probably setting yourself up for disappointment.

pCR after neoadjuvant chemo w/ integrative practices; Proton rads. Dx 7/13/2018, IDC, Left, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 3, ER-/PR-, HER2- (FISH) Chemotherapy 8/13/2018 Carboplatin (Paraplatin), Taxotere (docetaxel) Surgery 12/27/2018 Lumpectomy: Left Radiation Therapy 2/11/2019 Whole-breast: Breast, Lymph nodes
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Mar 21, 2019 07:55PM zastrugi22 wrote:

That's very sage advice--thank you for your response! And yes, I think you are spot on--I need to readjust my expectations because things don't seem to be shifting in the short term and may not ever shift for that matter.

And best of luck to you on your health journey! I hope you are doing well!

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Mar 22, 2019 02:05AM blah333 wrote:

I agree, kudos to you for trying to put aside any pride and be there for her, but cancer doesn't "change" everyone. In that someone might not become more sensible or loving or "realize what is truly important" because of a diagnosis. Cancer is alienating.... and I found it to be quite embarassing also for some reason. Kind gestures and outpourings of love were quite distasteful to me when I was going through shit. The softness from others seemed incongruent with my reality. I had a harder time with family than just spending time with friends and not talking about it. You've done what you can.... it IS her next move.

Age 35 at diagnosis Dx 9/2017, DCIS, Left, 6cm+, Stage 0, 0/2 nodes, ER+/PR+ Surgery 12/1/2017 Mastectomy: Left, Right
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Mar 22, 2019 02:55AM AliceBastable wrote:

Although I was the one with cancer, I do have a sister with bipolar disorder. She was treated for it many years ago, briefly, but now not only will she not seek treatment for it, she will not go to any doctor. She covers it up by saying they're all stupid, she knows her own body, yada yada, but I'm pretty sure she's terrified they'll re-diagnose her bipolar disorder. It's sad because it's a somewhat treatable chemical imbalance and she makes herself and everyone she knows miserable.

Is your sister under current treatment for the bipolar disorder? That could make a difference, because untreated usually also means very much in denial and any problems are other people's fault. With cancer treatment, this could be even more of a minefield. (I was raised with "Oh, don't ever upset your sister, you know how she gets." But nobody ever thought to take her to a doctor 🙄.) Between the chemo itself, side effect controllers like steroids, and other necessary drugs, she could be more volatile - or even more sociable and nice, you never know. But I know my sister has anger issues tied to the bipolar disorder (back to needing to blame someone for anything bad) and I wonder if the "mad at the world" aspect might get worse for your sister. So my advice would echo santabarbarian's: keep the door open but wait for her to meet you (mentally, not literally) on the threshold. Keep offering olive branches but protect yourself so she doesn't poke you in the eye with them.

Endometrial cancer 2010, basal cell multiples, breast cancer 2018, kidney cancer 2018. Cancer's a bitch, but I'm a bigger one with more practice. Dx 5/2018, ILC/IDC, Left, 2cm, Stage IA, Grade 2, 1/1 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 7/10/2018 Lumpectomy: Left; Lymph node removal: Sentinel Surgery 8/7/2018 Radiation Therapy 10/28/2018 Whole-breast: Breast, Lymph nodes
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Mar 22, 2019 08:37AM edwards750 wrote:

My husband was DX as bipolar and from personal experience I sincerely hope your sister gets medical help. Mood swings are prevalent and it’s hard sometimes, if not impossible, for you to know which mood they will be in that day. My husband takes meds and mood stabilizers. His family, save one sibling, all have emotional conditions. One sibling’s son does as well. They can’t control their moods and depression because it’s a chemical imbalance. Make no mistake it is a serious condition. My husband stopped drinking when his condition hit rock bottom. That was in 2002.

I agree with others about offering help but with limitations. You can only do so much at this point. The rest is up to her.


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Mar 22, 2019 09:54AM - edited Mar 22, 2019 09:55AM by Denise-G

I get asked all the time, "What can I do for a cancer patient?" My response is always the same. "It doesn't matter what you do, just do something."

I believe that applies even in your difficult situation with your sister. My recommendation would be to do something that can be done at a distance - card, a gift card to a restaurant as food is really challenging for cancer patients, a gift, mail her some muffins from a bakery (usually these are appealing to most cancer patients), a gas card if she drives, or a grocery store gift card.

Even in good relationship situations as had been said, the cancer patient does not feel very social and it is a very lonely road. I most appreciated those thoughtful gestures that required no return effort on my part. I was too sick to make a phone call or even send emails at times. And you are especially too overwhelmed to call and ask others for help. my BC Blog with over 200 informative posts about all aspects of BC - stop by! Myself, my mom, and sister were all diagnosed with BC within 3 years. What a ride! Dx 10/10/2011, IDC, Left, 6cm+, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 9/14 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH) Surgery 11/23/2011 Lymph node removal: Left, Underarm/Axillary; Mastectomy: Left Chemotherapy 12/27/2011 AC + T (Taxol) Targeted Therapy 2/28/2012 Herceptin (trastuzumab) Hormonal Therapy 10/11/2012 Arimidex (anastrozole)

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