Step-mom Has Cancer, How to Support Family?

Updated on February 26, 2010
S.C. asks from Mankato, MN
6 answers

My step-mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer that has spread to her lungs and bones. We won't know the exact prognosis until Thursday. However, my dad is very upset and I'm sure my siblings and nieces and nephew are too. I live out of state and am at a loss as to how to support my dad and the rest of the family. I'm sad but coping and think I can explain it to my 3-year-old. I'm just particularly worried about my dad and one brother and two nieces in particular who don't deal well with stress and have a history of depression and/or alcoholism. Any suggestions on what to do that would be helpful while out of state would be extremely appreciated.

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So What Happened?

First, thank you all for your support and sharing your experience. My thoughts are with those of you facing cancer or cancer in your loved ones. I went and visited my family and will go back again in two months. It was a rough trip, but I'm glad I did it. I've been staying in regular internet contact with family. They all know about the resources in their town as my sister died of cancer 10 years ago. Thank you for all of the wonderful suggestions.

More Answers



answers from Pittsburgh on

I'm sorry. It's tough, I know. Wait to get all of the facts of her diagnosis. They really are doing much better with chemo & other treatments than ever. Keep in touch very regularly with all of your family members so you know hoe they all are doing, especially your dad and MIL. You can ASK what they need or would like.
You can send weekly flowers, gift cards for groceries, gas, cash for parking at hospitals, etc., comfort items for her such as books, magazines, a comfy throw, snacks if she has an appetite.
Plan a trip for a visit when and if you can.
Keep hope and faith alive and help the others do the same with an occasional inspirational card, book or gift. God bless.



answers from Des Moines on

Hi. I have the same dx as your step mom and I am 37 with a 2.5 year old at home. There are some really great websites with discussion boards that have been a great resource for me. Sometimes I see husbands or other family members post things on these boards too. is one and the other one I really like is through

In the beginning, it seems that people crawl out of the woodwork to be supportive but as time goes on, people get busy with their own lives and the support kind of weans. Spontaneous cards, small tokens, etc are alwasy nice.

As to how to support your dad........As a patient myself, I think it is harder to be a loved one than it is to be the patient. yes, I go through the treatments and what not but my family and friends feel helpless. Just be there if he wants to talk, but don't press if he doesn't. My husband relies on his faith quite a bit during difficult times in my cancer journey.

For me and my family, education is key. I try to keep up to date with all treatments and read about everything I can on the subject. Some people don't want to know though, so you will really have to decide where they fall in this camp.

As for your little one, my advice is be honest but not very detailed. I told my son that mama was going to have chemo and that my hair was going to fall out. We had a hair shaving party where he got to help cut my hair - and we made it fun. He knows I go to chemo every week although he doesn't really know what that means. I still work, have a very active life and I really suspect he thinks nothing of chemo at this point.

I wish you and your family the best of luck.



answers from Lincoln on

How far do you live out of state? Could it be a trip you could drive once a month, or would you have to book a flight? I would definitely encourage your dad and step mom to get into some kind of support group for themselves, I hear this works wonders! It will be really hard for you to show any kind of physical support since you live out of state, but phone calls are always a good thing! Maybe call twice a week or if you have a close family you can call every day or at least 4-5 times a week. Try sending a "thinking of you card" every week too, just so they know that you are thinking of them and they know you care. I wouldn't focus so much on explaining it to your three year old that much, she won't understand it. I lost my dear friend last year to non-hodgkins lymphoma and her little boy was only 3, and to this day he still doesn't understand why mommy got sick, just knows she is in heaven.
Best of luck to you, as I know that this can be a deadly disease! My mother in law is battling cancer as well. Very hard!



answers from Dallas on

One thing that you might be able to do is to communicate with them often with an understanding tone and encourage them to stay healthy. You could call the cancer center where she is being treated and find out what kind of services are available for the family like counseling or support groups. There are some specifically for children who have family members with cancer. You could research other options in their community and offer suggestions. Then firmly suggest that they use these services. Help them break down things into small pieces--sometimes a cancer diagnosis looks so overwhelming that people freeze up and do nothing. Good luck to you and your family, especially your step mom.



answers from Indianapolis on

I was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkins Lymphoma 10 weeks after the birth of my second child. It is devastating. But, the MOST important thing you can do is be there. The only thing I needed was the reassurance that people wanted me in their lives, and that gave me the courage to fight.

Her prognosis may not be catastrophic. A friend, whose mother just had a recurrence of breast cancer after 12 years clean, has the same diagnosis (though I don't know the exact kind of breast cancer). She has been told she has MANY good years ahead of her.

There are a lot of support groups for family members who are caregivers and face being the ones left behind if the cancer is terminal. The one I'm involved in is Imerman Angels ( Caring Bridge is also another fantastic place that I'd recommend getting involved in.

I'd also recommend getting second and third medical opinions. Part of the way through my treatment, I asked to be referred to additional Lymphoma specialists (I had to go out of state), but I actually chose not to follow my own Oncologist's recommended treatment based upon those consults. It never hurts to have those additional opinions to help either confirm the prognosis/treatment or to open the opportunity for other options.

As for your 3 year old - please be honest about what's going on. My diagnosis was the day before my son's second birthday. We took him to chemo sessions (because we don't have family close by), explained to him that mommy was sick and tried to explain that it was different from when he gets sick. They don't need to know the nitty gritty details, but it will help prepare them for possible mood/physical changes that may come with treatment or how other people deal with it.

If nothing else, be there for her, for your father and your family. Everyone wants to help initially, but it's the months later when people hear you're well that they stop calling - and you probably need them the most.

Best wishes to your family.



answers from Los Angeles on

I'm very sorry to hear the stress your family is going through and possible loss of your step-M.. There is very little you can do to help your father, brother and nieces, everyone deals with crisis in different ways. You can however just hear them out if they are able to talk about their feelings. If not, just call to tell them how much you care and how much everone of them mean to you. Other than that, you could call to find out what supportive resources are available to them in their area. Your step-M.'s doctor should hopefully be providing referrals as well, and if she is considered terminal perhaps even hospice. (they can provide family counseling).
Again sorry to hear your step-M.'s diagnosis and I wish your family strength. Good luck.

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