Sister Ill. Where to Turn?

Updated on January 18, 2012
J.C. asks from Columbus, OH
18 answers

Hello moms,

Some of you may remember one of my recent posts about my older sister. She's stage 4 liver cancer. In one week she begins her new chemotherapy. She's been through double mastectomies, chemo, radiation, botched reconstruction, infections and obviously depression. Now the liver cancer. I can't tell you how heartbreaking this news is. She hasn't technically been given a time line yet, but her oncologists have given her a veiled suggestion to get her house in order.

This news is beyond devastating. She is my best friend, my confidant, the one person I can go to for advice. Yes, I have my wonderful husband, but it's not the same. I am trying to remain strong for her, for her kids and my kids. I am finding this more and more difficult to do. I feel the need to reach out, but I don't know where. I want to talk about it, to cry, but I don't know who will listen. I feel lost. I feel desperate. And I feel guilt for needing help for myself; she's the sick one, not me. She's the one that needs the support. She's the one who has to come to terms of never seeing her daughter and son get married. Of never seeing her kids graduate. Of never holding her grandchildren. It's not fair.

I don't feel like breaking down in front of her would be helpful - she'll end up feeling guilty (that's the kind of people we are) Believe it or not, she's feeling guilty that she's got this terminal illness. That she's bringing sadness and inconvenience to her family and friends. Ridiculous, right? Like she contracted cancer on purpose. If she weren't sick I'd punch her! (jk)

Do you have any suggestions for me? We live in a small town, so there are not a lot of support groups around here - I've checked. I feel like I'm twisting in the wind when I want to be strong and stable. Please help.

What can I do next?

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answers from Washington DC on

Contact the hospital where she is receiving her care and ask them for a family support group. They will point you in the right direction. You may have to drive a bit, but the support will be worth it.

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answers from New York on

Throw yourself into helping her. I agree with Dawn. Making mementos for her kids, would be awesome. If you're an organized type of person...what type of help does she need? Can you help her with things? What do you think? Also, how is her husband during this?

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answers from Charlotte on


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answers from St. Louis on

church group....prayer group. They will help you thru this. Even if you are not a practicing Christian, they will support you in your time of need.

Also check with the nearest hospital. They will have resources to offer you.

My heart goes out to you. I wish you & your sister....a safe Journey.

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answers from Chicago on

I am soooo sorry about your sister going through this. I am so close to my sisters I can't even imagine. Be supportive and spend as much time as you can with her. Is she married with kids? Perhaps you can help her get her house in order. Let her lean on you? Are you religious? Attend church? If you do look for support groups there or talk to your pastor/priest etc. You both need support as this is a difficult time. Hugs!

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answers from Washington DC on


I don't even know where to start. If you lived closer - I would be right over to your house for hugs!! this sooo sucks!

Please go to the hospital and ask when and where the support meets. Get involved...please. I realize you live in a small town - however - it's possible to start one. There might be a national association for her cancer that can help you.

Start a journal - like a book - of all the good times you've had - her great words of no one will forget her children more information and history on that they can share this wonderful W. with their children and spouses...if only in memory...

She's grieving too - hence the guilt she's feeling...there are many stages to grief. She will need to grieve. Ask her if she wants to do a video diary for her kids...anything special she wants to say to them on their wedding day? You can record it and save she KNOWS she will be there...loving her children.

I hope this helps. Please know you have HUGS and prayers coming your way!

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answers from Appleton on

Contact the American Cancer Society, they may know of a support group near you. They are also a great resource for your sister and her family.

I would also contact the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, I don't know what they do that is different than other cancer treatment centers but they claim to have a high cure rate.

Go to and see if there is a support group for families of cancer patients or even one for families of gravely ill patients.

Her doctor told her to 'get her house in order' that tells me he doesn't have much hope in her treatment or prognosis. This sooooo hard to even tell you this but.... talk to her now. All of the anger you are feeling I am sure she is feeling also. I am sure she has thought of everything you mentioned. Not seeing her kids grow up, graduate, get married and have kids. Not being there to grow old with you and her hubby she has thought of all of if. I would bet that she is very angry. People are so afraid to talk out their thoughts about death. Let her talk it out--let her punch a pillow, yell and scream about how unfair it is. The anger is not helping her or you and it's better to get it out and talk it out. I don't know how old her kids are but if they are little there is sooooooo much to tell them. Explain about her periods to her daughter and putting on make-up and buying her first bra those are milestones that are so important to Mom's. Teaching your son to dance before his first date and showing how to be a gentleman. She could record videos for her kids to tell them everything she wants them to know.

As difficult as it is to talk about she needs to be able to talk about her fear and anger. Even though she has not expressed it, I am sure she has thought more then once 'why me' and why me now'.

Hopefully the treatments will work and she will have a long life ahead of her. Many years from now both of you can pull out the videos and laugh at them. But it would be a great comfort to her kids to have them if she doesn't survive this.

Sending hugs.


My Mom passed less than a month ago, she was 94, and I had been homebound with her for almost 8 months. But my kids and I had spent about 10 yrs taking care of her. The last 8 months as she was on hospice and slowly dying I talked to her about her funeral. Not an easy subject to talk about but for some people especially the eldery having a say about their funeral is important for them. We discussed what she would wear, who her pall bearers would be, what kind of flowers, which funeral home, she wanted so when the time came all I had to do was contact the people she had wanted and I was all done. You could even take your sister to a funeral home and select her casket. It's sooo difficult but will give her some peace of mind knowing it's taken care of. My Mom's funeral cost over $13,000 so be prepared for the cost. Find out if she has a will or life insurance and where those policies are and if she has something special she really wants the kids to have. Who gets her wedding ring, ect? What to do with her clothes and other things. Her hubby should be as involved as he can be at this point. But having things written down and planned out will be so helpful, should you need it.

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answers from Cumberland on

I can barely see to type. There are probably support groups-but I don't know where you'd find the time. Anyway-you need a lot of support-not a lot of groups. Sweetheart, if you have to cry-cry. If it makes your sister feel guilty-tell her what you told us-that she would do the same for you. Stay positive-stage four isn't necessarily a certainty of an unwanted outcome-it means the fight is a whole lot greater-people all over the world are praying for your sister-daily-and I am, too.

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answers from Boca Raton on

I've never been through anything like what your sister is going through, but I am an older sister . . . sometimes I get tired of being the older sister/second mom (though I'm grateful too). I usually feel like I have to be strong for everyone else. And I feel guilty when I can't be there for everyone I love. I'm guessing your sister is going through that.

I would focus on letting her express herself, and supporting her even when she doesn't ask for it (she'll still appreciate it).

It sounds like your sister is your anchor. You'll need to find another anchor for now (I'm so sorry). It will be very, very tough. But your roles will need to shift. Be her anchor if you can.

My heart goes out to you . . . I can't imagine ever losing either one of my sisters. :(

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answers from San Francisco on

I have lost many people to cancer, including a friend who died of liver cancer this summer at 56 and I also have a friend who was just diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer (spread to liver) at age 44. I seriously hate cancer. Your feelings are completely natural. I would strongly suggest that you contact any hospice help that exists in your town. If there is none, then find some online resources to help educate you. Many people hear hospice and they think that a person is dying in a matter of days....but hospice is so much more than that. My fil dealt with a stroke and prostrate cancer and hospice care made such a difference in the quality of his life and his death. I also want to recommend the book Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying
It really helps the caregivers understand the psychological and emotional journey that the patient is going through. I am so sorry your family is experiencing this.

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answers from Dover on

Aw, Gosh, J. C. I am so sorry to hear this. For the record, you can call or IM me anytime you want and vent and cry and hurt and it's OK. I don't have experience with a sister with cancer and what it's like to watch someone you love die too young. I do have experience with watching someone you have loved, and counted on, and cherished slip away and feeling powerless to do anything to stop it or help.

I agree that you should call or look up online the American Cancer Society and find out what all is available. The local hospital will have a chaplaincy and social work system that can connect you with helping groups available in your area or close by, as well.

I'll be thinking about you and your sister and praying for your both.

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answers from Indianapolis on

Check with her oncologist about a counselor that deals with cancer patients and the family of the patient. They should be able to refer you to someone. No you aren't a bad person for feeling so overwhelmed by this and needing somewhere to turn. This is something you've never had to deal with before and it is a life changing event in your life and you need help learning how to cope with it and that's ok.


Check with her oncologist about a counselor that deals with cancer patients and the family of the patient. They should be able to refer you to someone. No you aren't a bad person for feeling so overwhelmed by this and needing somewhere to turn. This is something you've never had to deal with before and it is a life changing event in your life and you need help learning how to cope with it and that's ok.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I am sorry J. that you and the family are going through this!
Maybe you should start to journaling, record your sister story and spend time remembering the things you and your sister have gone through. It may do her well to record all the things that brings her joy.

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answers from Cleveland on

In the words of my 26 year old brother at my 22 year old brothers funeral in September...."This fucking sucks!" I hope I did not offend you, but I know there are no words that can make you feel any better. My 22 yo brother committed suicide in September. My best friend died in November and my grandmother passed in December. I know what you mean about feeling lost. I also know what you mean about talking to your husband not being the same and you just want to tell somebody something. After I lost my brother, I would find myself feeling like I needed to tell anyone that would listen everything I could remember about him. One day when I was taking a walk, I stopped a woman walking her dog and did just that. She was a complete stranger, but I NEEDED to tell her this information. She was very gracious and even invited me to walk with her and her dog. I also found myself telling another woman at taco bell everything about my brother. It was very helpful to me. I ended up finding a suicide support group that meets 1 night per week. The meetings are an hour away and I have to leave work early to get there, but they have helped tremendously. Sometimes I talk, sometimes I don't. The meetings are hard, but I usually sleep well that night and feel a little better the next day. I am enduring the situation. I would also punch my brother if I could. I also found a website that has been helpful. I don't post anything on the site because I am not comfortable with that, but just reading other people's stories help.

I hate being lost, having no direction/desire and most of all not knowing when/how things will get better. I know our situations are not the same, but the feelings are. All I can say is talking about it does help. It takes time which sucks if you ask me. Please privately contact me and tell me anything you need. Like I said, I know what it feels like when you just need to get things out. I will listen all day long even if you tell me the same story 100 times. I took pictures of my brothers funeral and have shared those with my best friend a dozen times. I would be honored to be that person for you if you need....most of the time it seems easier with strangers anyway.

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answers from Santa Barbara on

J., I'm so sorry your sister and family are going through this. It's just awful, any way you look at it. I lost a very close friend (at 40 yrs old) to liver cancer in September (he had a ten year old son and a THREE month daughter). My friend had the relationship with his brother like you do with your sister. I know his brother will be the one telling the stories about him.

Has your sister asked you for anything specific for after she passes? Traditions to continue, "talks" to have, certain ways she wants her children parented? Write them down, it's difficult to remember at a time like this. Remain close with your brother-in-law.

The other moms had great ideas for groups to receive counseling through. I am very sorry, wishing you the best

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answers from San Antonio on

Hi J.
I lost my sister to kidney cancer 3 yrs ago. IT SUCKS!! I was with her every day from diagnosis to passing. Sadly that was only 90 days!!!!!
She was my everything! No one and nothing can replace the bond you have with your sister!!
BUT! It is ok to have a momentary lapse of strength in front of her. Tell her how much you love you her and that you hate the pain she having to endure. Then be done. And get strong for her again. She needs someone that she can be weak with. If you can do this let her know. Sis, I am here for you. I can't take the pain away but I can be here to help you thru it. Wow, this brings back so many memories. My sister was so strong. We prayed alot and we played christian music ALL DAY LONG. Her little spirit shined.

You need to have a frank talk with the family. SOMEONE needs to be the finance person. SOMEONE needs to be the head of reason. For us it was my brother. I was the emotional support, and day to day care giver. My brother took care of all the other arrangements. My mom spoke to her about the funeral. My sister wanted to be cremated and then have a memorial. (We ended up having two seperate services because my mom demanded on having the old fashioned Catholic service, which my sister did not want, but whatever)
J., I totally understand your fears and your desire for help. I lived in a big city and still felt helpless when help was all around. I did get on anti depressants for a little while. I had to because I was so depressed after she passed. I could barely function. BUT it does get better.
There is no right or wrong here. Just do the best you can with the time you have. You never know, this may be curable. And she will be here another 20 or 30 yrs. I never lost hope that my sister would be healed. Until she went in to the hospice hospital and they told me she was showing the signs of "The Final Days" I still wanted to see her come out of it.
I am going to send you my email address, please send me a note any time you need some encouragement. I will gladly listen and give you as much support as I can from Texas!!
Hugs hugs hugs to you sweet J.! I am so sorry you have to go through this.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

There are some cancer support groups that offer many services. Also my biggest support is my small group from my church. I have has an ongoing situation in my family and I don't know what I would do without their prayers and encouragement. My only other support is my Bible. I read it daily. Psalms. Lots of encouraging words.

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answers from Amarillo on

I am so sorry. Have your sister sit down and write her children a letter so that she can express her feelings to them. She could even write notes for certain ages. Take pictures of the two of you together for your memory book.

Contact the American Cancer Society and the hospital about hospice care. Make amends and mend fences between the family members. Do the best you can to enjoy the remaining days that you all have by doing things together that she loves to do.

If you have to cry do it in the bath in the shower or whatever.

You are in my thoughts.

The other S.

PS Always remember the good times and the smiles that you had together.

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