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Topic: Breast cancer in a culture where depression “doesn’t exist.”

Forum: For Caregivers, Family, Friends and Supporters —

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: Jun 4, 2019 10:40PM

CPmkI wrote:

I need advice on how to be supportive.

My sister in law (my wife's brother's wife) was recently diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer after knowing something was wrong for months, but lacking the strength of will necessary to bring herself out of the house to get it checked.

She lives with my wife's parents in their home in mainland China, and everyone I mention in this post (besides me) is of mainland Chinese nationality. One characteristic that I have noticed since living here is that depression and its symptoms are not well understood, or even accepted here. It has been clear to me that my SIL has been battling depression ever since I met her - it is difficult for her: she is expected to just suffer through her husband having affairs and never being around because her MIL (my wife's mom) always counters with "I had it worse when I was your age."

That seems to be the stock reply if you ever have the nerve to speak out and ask for help, "suck it up, I had it worse." My wife has even tried to connect my SIL with another friend of hers, a breast cancer survivor, who takes the same attitude. "I pulled myself up, so you should stop sulking."

My wife herself also seems to not quite get it, and doesn't understand that some people can feel this so badly that they literally need someone to walk them through the motions at first until they believe progress is possible/worth it.

However, suffering from depression myself, I know the symptoms, and I know that being embedded in a toxic environment where your pain is constantly being denied is no basis for recovering from ANY difficulty, let alone depression, and let alone cancer.

I want to be supportive, but I don't want to make waves with my wife's family. Also, my SIL and I have rarely ever talked before. I don't want to talk to her about her problems being married to my BIL, since I think that is out of bounds. I just want to make sure she knows that someone knows how she feels. I know I often wish I had a coach to tell me exactly what to do sometimes, and I don't even have a life-threatening illness. Truly, this is what she needs... but maybe I can at least touch base with her and remind her of her daily goals.

On that note, how can I begin to breach this topic? How can I do this without being weird, or falling for the trap of this being about me wanting to help vs. being able to help as transparently as possible?

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Jun 5, 2019 05:53AM Salamandra wrote:

I'm afraid you might be a bit too removed to do this effectively, if you don't already have the kind of relationship with her where you can address it. I guess the best thing to do would be to bring it up casually when you're all together, in a way that puts yourself out there and shows that you are comfortable being open and talking about it, so that she can follow up with you if she ever wants to.

Otherwise just be a friend. Invite her to join you and your wife for fun and/or low key things, send meals/food, etc.

Dx at 39. 1.8cm. Oncotype 9. Dx 9/19/2018, IDC, Right, 1cm, Stage IA, Grade 2, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- (FISH) Surgery 10/18/2018 Lumpectomy; Lymph node removal: Sentinel Radiation Therapy 12/3/2018 Whole-breast: Breast Hormonal Therapy Tamoxifen pills (Nolvadex, Apo-Tamox, Tamofen, Tamone)
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Jun 5, 2019 06:16AM DATNY wrote:

Your wife needs to get this and try to reach out and help her. Show her this post, maybe she will understand quickly. You may want to do do this for the sake of your offspring, if they ever are diagnosed with depression. Depression is a disease of an organ, the brain, and it should be treated, much like the disease of any other organ. Would they had expected her to "suck it up" if it was kidney or liver dissease?

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Jun 5, 2019 01:00PM ShetlandPony wrote:

I’m going to suggest a research tack. I have met social workers and psychologists who are addressing the issue of how to serve the Chinese-American community in a culturally-appropriate way. (Including a kind and caring oncology social worker at my cancer center, who is Chinese-American.) They understand the reluctance in this community to talk about mental health, cancer, etc. What if you look up professional organizations and read up on their research and approach. Maybe even contact someone and ask for suggestions. You need a guide, right?

2011 Stage I ILC ER+PR+ Her2- 1.5 cm grade 1, ITCs sn . Lumpectomy, radiation, tamoxifen. 2014 Stage IV ILC ER+PR+Her2- grade 2, mets to breast , liver. Taxol NEAD. 2015,2016 Ibrance+letrozole. 2017 Faslodex+Afnitor; Xeloda. 2018,2019 Xeloda NEAD
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Jun 5, 2019 03:27PM Moderators wrote:

Excellent ideas here for a very important issue that needs to be discussed. Thanks for opening up the conversation, CPmkI, and thanks everyone for excellent suggestions!

To send a Private Message to the Mods: community.breastcancer.org/mem...
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Jun 7, 2019 06:52PM CPmkI wrote:

Thank you all for the thoughtful suggestions and the further reading!


Whole family just had a great holiday together, so that at least brightened things up.

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