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You Are Not Alone

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A friend called me the other day because he was upset about his sister’s pancreatic cancer. She lives about 75 miles from him, has no friends or family that can help her (other than him) and is basically indigent. The two of them have hardly spoken in the last 40 years and now he feels tremendous obligation only because of their blood ties.

He owns his own business which is struggling now due to the economy, has a wife and three children living at home to support and he doesn’t know what to do. He feels like it’s all on his shoulders, a responsibility that he doesn’t want or need, but how can her turn his back on his own sister?

There are two areas of stress here: financial support and logistical support. He simply does not have the resources to support her financially. If it were his own wife or children he’d sell the house if he had to, but he just can’t/won’t do that for her. There is only so much he can do in that department, and he is comfortable with those limitations.

Logistical support takes a lot of his time, which he can’t afford either. He’s willing to pick her up once a week or so, take her to treatment and take her home again (considering the distance and traffic, that’s an all-day proposition), but what about all of her other needs? He feels obligated but just can’t do it. He’s stuck.

After talking with him for a while it occurred to me that a lot of his stress was due to his “I-have-to-do-everything” thinking. He doesn’t. There are lots of ways he can get help.

Here are a few:
a) There are support groups that coordinate with treatment centers to help with transportation. He can call her clinic and ask about what is available;
b) There are also local support groups in her home city that will do the same thing;
c) Meals on Wheels may be able to provide some food;
d) His wife can help with coordination of resources; and
e) His children are grown and can help, perhaps with transportation (they can take turns), food, etc.

His wife and children were more than happy to help, and once he considered all the options, he saw his role change from a “doer” to a “project manager.” He felt much better.

Add a Comment5 Comments


Hi Diane

Thanks for your post and question; I wasn't even sure so I asked him about it. As it turns out, she did have some friends who were able to support her in some small ways but since they were financially challenged as well, there was only so much they could do for her. She was taking the bus to her appointments, but he was enlisted when she could no longer do even that much.

She died about a week after my post and I went to the funeral (I wrote an article about my encounter with his/her mother at that event). His mother told me how proud she was of him because "he really stepped up to the plate" and took care of a lot of things, including the funeral, burial, and plans for the day. She knew they weren't close, but he did the right thing and now every one feels good about it, or at least as good as they can under the circumstances.

January 28, 2010 - 11:58am
(reply to Dave Balch)

Tough situation; it's especially hard to lose someone during the holidays. I'm glad, however, that your friend -- and his mother -- can look back on this loss knowing that they did the right thing. None of it was easy, and he walked through it step by step. Thanks for the update, and the inspiration.

January 29, 2010 - 9:34am


All-or-nothing thinking often bogs me down. I love that you were able to help your friend, especially with your thoughts about how he could be the project manager rather than just the primary doer. But the whole story made me wonder; if they had not been close in 40 years, what support system had she had before she was ill? It's such a hard situation and I could feel my heartstrings being tugged in all the guilty places too. If I were in that situation I would find it very hard to draw some sort of boundary line for myself. Thoughts?

January 27, 2010 - 11:37am
EmpowHER Guest

My very first time. It all looks good but I need to spend more time but not tonight, I need to get to sleep. I'm battling breast cancer for 7 1/2 years and have to stop when tired. Ill be back. Sandra

January 26, 2010 - 3:05am
(reply to Anonymous)

We're very glad you're here, Sandra. And congratulations on being such a survivor! As soon as you feel up to it, I'd love to hear more of your story. In the meantime, take care and be well.

January 27, 2010 - 11:33am
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