Thursday, November 29, 2012

Family Drama Already?

It's two days post-diagnosis and my mom is at the hospital, awaiting her biopsy. I am assuming this confirms the cancer diagnosis and also presumably tells us the cell type and thus, how aggressive the cancer is.

I'm still avoiding doing any internet research and am just waiting to see what the doctors tell us. My brother is with my mom and he will call me after the procedure, since she will be groggy from general anesthesia.

My mom lives in a suburb of Boston, and my brother lives in Boston proper. With my sister recently relocated to Florida (from Western MA) and me in Brooklyn, he is the one who is local, and also the one without a family (he is recently divorced, and doesn't have kids). My sister and I have volunteered to come up as needed, but it's obviously not practical for us to to be there on a regular basis.

When my dad was sick with brain cancer (diagnosed seven and a half years ago, died five years ago), I was a nurse practitioner student and living on the upper west side of Manhattan (and childless, obviously, though in a long term relationship), it was a lot easier to get to MA. Typically I would rent a car (my ex-boyfriend worked for a rental car company, which made things easier) and leave Manhattan at 6 am on Saturday. I was able to make the trip in just over three hours. Friday night traffic made it not at all worthwhile to even attempt the trip then. I would stay until noon or so on Sunday, then head back to the city.

Now, well, I'm an hour further from MA. And of course, I've got this little person dependent on me. Who doesn't like the car, particularly, though she's much better about tolerating shorter rides than she used to be. And packing for us both is much. much more complicated than packing for a single adult. And then there's the idea of a toddler tramping all over my mom's house, which wouldn't be relaxing for a sick person, not to mention the fact that her home isn't babyproofed. At least my mom recently bought a baby gate for the bottom of the stairs (but not the top). Traveling with Calliope for Thanksgiving was stressful and exhausting (though rewarding, also), and I had really, really hoped to avoid it for Christmas. I was looking forward to a quiet week at home, enduring potty training bootcamp and enjoying trips to the zoo, botanic garden, and children's museum.

But of course, if my mom wants me to come, I will find a way to make it work.

What I'm worried about is that my brother will want me to come, simply to even the score. To make up for the care that he is providing, which may or may not be needed or wanted.Which is frustrating on so many levels.

When we spoke on the evening of my mom's diagnosis, he already alluded to his expectations for me, something along the lines of, "with me being the one that's local and on the front lines, I'm going to need help from you and J (our other sister)."


First off, my mom is still healthy and feeling fine. He has taken it upon himself to move in with her for a few days, which is very nice but I'm not sure my mom feels it's at all necessary. (I wonder if she's cooking for him every night? At least tomorrow night my cousin is bringing over a pot of soup!)

She also told me immediately that she did not want to get a second opinion, that she really liked the first doctor she saw. He immediately told me that of course she needed a second opinion, and his ?soon-to-be girlfriend, who is a OB/gyn, got him the cell phone number of the "best" specialist in Boston. And that furthermore, treatment in Boston would be clearly of higher quality than in Worcester, at UMass, and also much more convenient for him. And for my mom, too, since she might want to stay with him, to be closer to the hospital.

I don't disagree with the idea of getting a second opinion, but I felt like it was also important to honor my mom's wishes. He technically listened when I explained that it's important to respect the autonomy of people with serious health problems (not my own original thesis, something I was taught in nursing school), but obviously didn't agree with the sentiment when it came to getting a second opinion. I'm concerned she may be swayed by his forceful "persuasion" (he is like a dog with a bone when it comes to an argument, and has been like that since he was six years old and could, even then, bend her to his will, which of course, brings up her own issues with being all-too-easily persuadable, but I digress) and end up getting treatment at a facility that is inconvenient to her home (and of course she will want to be in her own bed, in her own home if she's not feeling well, not on an Aerobed in his empty bachelor's apartment!) and her friends.

I'm also remembering the very terrible day after my dad died, when my brother and sister decided that we simply had to clean out every cupboard and drawer in my mother's entire three story house before the funeral and shiva calls. Cleaning was the last thing I felt capable of; they were convinced that this was an obvious example of my selfishness. Never mind that I had been getting up hours earlier than each of them each day to help with our dying father's care while they slept. That was ancient history, as far as they were concerned. This descended into a screaming brawl that left battle scars for me, at least, for a very long time.

So I'm very worried about my brother's demands on me, which I may feel are unreasonable, and having to choose between doing things that are arduous for me (like traveling to MA with Calliope) and feel unnecessary versus having pitched family battles again. Enduring another experience like that would probably do severe and permanent damage on our relationships.


My attitude when it comes to siblings is live-and-let-live. I'm not placing expectations on my brother about what he should be doing for our mother. Her friend offered to take her to the biopsy, but he insisted on taking her. Which is wonderful, and I'm grateful, but I don't expect that to be held against me, either.

Why is it that these challenging family experiences, which have the potential to bring us together, seem more apt to tear us apart? How do I get through the coming months and try to protect those relationships while also protecting the lives of Calliope and myself?

Advice welcome.

And now I return to being in a more present and positive "space," and leaving these worries to fend for themselves for the time being.


  1. Oh I'm sorry you're having family drama. As I've been going through a little of that right now with my siblings I know how draining it can be.

    Has your sister weighed in on any of this yet? I hate to make it sound like an episode of Survivor but maybe you need to work to create an aliance with your sister and your mother's friends so you don't run into a situation where it seems like its you against your brother. I would particular try to connect with someone in close proximity with your mother who can help keep you updated to what her real needs are versus what your brother thinks they are.

    And I know that it may be hard but don't let your brother guilt you into feeling like you're not pulling your weight simply because he is doing "more" or you're not meeting his expectations. If he expresses any sort of negativity regarding how much he has to do remember that is his issue not yours.

    Remember that it's not always necessary to be physically present to be supportive of someone (something I wish my family would get). Be there for your mom and know that as long as she feels your love and support what your brother thinks doesn't matter.

    I'll be thinking of you and your family. I know family stuff is hard. Focus your energy on your mom and your daughter and let your brother take care of himself and his own issues.

  2. No advice. Only the offer to take Calliope if you want to go up without her. Elsie would love to have a playmate for a weekend or however long.

  3. Oh, Abby, YUCK. Your family sounds a lot like mine, for what it's worth... I wish I had a good answer for you, but I don't, unfortunately. I just really hope it all works out. I hope your mom gets the care she needs, at the best place for her, and that you and your sister and brother make it through without a scratch. My thought is just that it's not about things being "even", in terms of what each of you do to help. Things have to be taken into consideration, such as distance, children, other responsibilities, etc. Hopefully your brother can come to understand that.

  4. Oh, and if you do come up, with or without Calliope, and if you need or want a place to stay or just to escape for a little while, please do let me know! You're more than welcome at my place - I have plenty of space for visitors. :)