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Do I tell my stepsisters how sick their dad is?

By Anonymous January 28, 2009 - 10:00pm
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I feel like I'm in a really awkward situation because my stepdad is very ill due to lung cancer that he has been unable to fight, however he doesn't want to let his daughters know just how ill he is. (His oncologist has told him that it's time to get his affairs in order.) I think he feels that he is protecting his daughters by having them think that he's winning the battle. Sadly, he's not, and he and my mom have called in hospice. My mom told me not to tell my stepsisters that he's terminal and will not live much longer. But I feel horrible that I'm in on this knowledge and they aren't. Wouldn't they want to know this so they can plan to spend more time with him? I feel like it's really unfair, and yet it's probably not my place to divulge the truth. Or is it? What would you do? And what if they somehow found out after he's gone that I knew more about his situation than they did? I would feel terrible.

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Anon - I'm sorry you're caught between a hard spot and a rock on this. I agree that your stepsisters deserve to know how ill their dad is. But, I also agree that he has a right to find his way to telling them, himself.

You might be able to find out how much they know by simply asking about him and when was the last time they visited him, opening the door to letting them tell you what they know (if anything). If they're as loving as you say, they're likely in touch with him. Maybe they do suspect something's not right, but are just as afraid to raise the question as their dad is to admit his condition.

My biggest fear is that my father's wife (I'm older than she, so "stepmom" is out of the question) will not tell my siblings and me if my dad is too ill to tell us himself.

January 29, 2009 - 6:28pm
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Well, my stepdad's daughters are just a few years younger than me. My mom and stepdad have only been together for about 3 years, and I don't know the daughters that well. They're in their mid- to late-30's and both live in the same city as their dad and my mom. I'm out of state. They are very loving towards their dad. I'm not sure how often they see him and have the impression that he makes an effort not to show them how sick and basically exhausted he is most of the time. I have no idea if they know that hospice has been called in.

Alison B, I like your suggestions. I doubt their dad has told them or would tell them what stage he's in, though. They're not dummies and would totally know how serious it is if he did. In any case, I respect the fact that my mom has confided in me, but still feel that it's unfair that I'm privy to info that his own daughter's aren't.

January 29, 2009 - 4:59pm

I am also wondering how old your step-sisters are. If they are adults, you may be able to work out a win-win situation.

Could you talk with your step-sisters and ask what their thoughts are about their dad and his illness? Have they spoken with him lately? They may know more than you think they know. If they do not, I would encourage them to ask their dad for themselves. You may be able to go as far as suggesting that you are "worried about the disease progression", and ask them to go see him, talk with him and ask HIM what the doctors are saying. They may be able to "see" more for themselves, to "see" how the illness is progressing, without you in the middle. Having them ask a direct question to their dad (what is the prognosis, dad? what do the doctors say about your chances of recovery?).

And, most importantly: have they done their research, and know what stage his lung cancer is in? American Lung Association (ALA). That would give them all the answers they need, with information and questions to ask their dad. You are then out of the middle of this situation, and it is in their (and their dad's) hands what information is shared.

January 29, 2009 - 3:19pm

Oh, Anon, this is heartbreaking. I'm so sorry.

How old are the girls? To me, that is the biggest part of the equation.

If they are quite young, I think you must abide by their father's wishes. Your mom and stepdad clearly know the seriousness of the situation and have made this decision. However, I think it's very appropriate for you to try to talk to your mom and stepfather and try to perhaps change their minds about this since it's something you feel strongly about. For the record, I think you are right that they deserve to know. They will be shattered if he dies and they had no clue.

If they are adults, and speaking for myself only, I think I'd have to tell them. What I'd do first is this: I'd tell my mom and stepdad that I think my stepsisters have a right to this information and that either they must tell them or I'm going to. Give them a chance to do this. And then, if they don't, you must weigh how you will feel afterward if you do tell them vs. how you will feel afterward if you don't tell them.

If he dies and they had no chance to say "I love you," they'll always be sad about it.

I speak from my own experience. I was 26 when my father was dying of cancer. My mother and I decided not to tell my younger sister (17) and younger brother (16) that death was imminent. It was a decision I've always regretted. I didn't know any better, and what I do know is that if we'd told them, the scene might have been too much for my mom to handle.

But the point is that I got to say goodbye, I got to say "I love you," I got to hold his hand -- and they didn't. They only have their imaginations and our retellings to know those last moments. Their choice -- whether to go to the hospital and be with him, or not -- was made for them, and I believe it was the wrong choice, even though it was made in a moment of grief and caretaking. They had no closure -- what they knew was that one day he was alive and fighting cancer, and the next day when we came home from the hospital, he was gone and they'd never see him again, never hear his voice again, never hold his hand or hug him again. It was a high price for them to pay.

If you do choose to tell them, realize that you will be the bearer of shattering news, and take care with that. Do it carefully and with their love for their father in mind. You don't have to be graphic. You can say, "It may be more serious than we know, because hospice is there now." Perhaps you can do this in a way that will help them find out more information for themselves, like Virginia suggested.

In the end, after very careful consideration, you have to do what you think is right. There will be fallout either way, so you want to choose the path you know you can live with.

January 29, 2009 - 10:52am

Have you asked your stepdad the reason why he wants to keep the news from his daughters? How close was he to them? Are they adults? Was he an involved dad in their lives? Is it possible he may be more concern with finding out that the daughters may not really care about his illness if they were not too close?

I think you need assess the situation by considering some of my questions. Also, do you have a relationship with your step sisters? If you do not tell them about their dad, will they resent you for not including them? The answers to these questions may help you decide whether to honor your stepdad's wishes or do what you believe is the right thing. You may also want to consider telling them anyway but let them know that dad had prefer not to worry them about his illness at this time. Ask them to keep it confidential and encourage them to casually call him from time to time to just talk to him and catch up with news. Maybe he will find the courage to tell them then.

Your concern is genuine and shows you care. That is wonderful!

January 29, 2009 - 12:33am
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