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'My mom survived cancer - and is sad'

She could see a counsellor and, eventually perhaps, sign on to the hospital as a volunteer.

She could see a counsellor and, eventually perhaps, sign on to the hospital as a volunteer.

Published Dec 7, 2015

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QUESTION: For the last 18 months I've supported my mother - a widow - through very unpleasant operations and chemotherapy.

She has had to go back and forth to the hospital and has felt very rough for a lot of the time throughout her treatment. She has braved it all with remarkable stoicism and made friends with the nurses - even giving comfort to other sufferers who haven't coped nearly as well.

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But a month ago, she was given the all-clear, and since then she has been in a deep depression, crying all the time. Is it a delayed reaction? I don't know what to do.

Yours sincerely,

Hattie

 

ANSWER: This is the bit they don't always tell you about cancer treatment. But it is an extremely common reaction. Only the other day, I had a tearful call from someone who'd had terrible ovarian cancer. Fearing the worst, I held my breath - but no. She told she'd been given the all clear and she was miserable.

Of course, you're right. There is a big element of delayed reaction. Your mother has been battling so long to keep alive, and now she is alive, she's wondering where she's going next? Everyone is trying to tell her that, having been spared death, her life is now extra precious. Well, frankly, no. It's just the same as it always was, except that your poor mother is not only exhausted from the chemotherapy - which can take a terrible toll for months and months, not only on the body but the mind as well - but she's probably living in constant anxiety about whether the wretched disease will return. No longer can she take life for granted. Every spot, every bump she finds fills her with panic.

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Not only that, but even people who have been kept in dreadful conditions, kidnapped, say, suffering pain and humiliation for years, can feel very ambivalent about being free. We've all heard of people who can no longer sleep on a comfortable mattress after they've been freed from a barren cell, and have to bed down on concrete to get a good night's sleep. Your mother's become practically institutionalised. Her life has been entirely made up of injections, scans, blood tests, check-ups and, for her, the hospital has become a second home.

Now she's back and she's lost everything - the role she played in comforting other patients, the nurses she loved. And the friendships she left behind will have changed, too. She's been through a life-changing experience. They haven't.

One way of helping her through this terrible time (when she's probably lacking sympathy from friends, who won't be able to understand why she isn't singing and dancing) is to be as caring as you already are

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She could see a counsellor and, eventually perhaps, sign on to the hospital as a volunteer. There are usually groups set up to fundraise and be helpers round the place. That way, she can still be connected.

Your mother isn't alone, by any means.

The Independent

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* For help in South Africa, go to www.cansa.org.za

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