Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Feel Betrayed Because My Mom Won’t Share Details About her Cancer With Me”

From the forums:

For the past four months I have been waiting expectantly for my mother’s cancer results. When the doctor first told my mother she had cancer, she hid it from me and my brother (we are in our 20s) and kept saying that the diagnosis wasn’t confirmed so we shouldn’t worry about it that much. She kept hiding details about her appointments; even though I asked her after the doctor appointments how things had gone, she would say things like, “You know doctors say a bunch of things. I don’t wanna spread bad vibes by discussing them again.” However, she always discussed her results with my sister, aunt, her own brother, and, of course, my dad while keeping me and my brother out of the loop. I feel very hurt and betrayed. Should I address this issue with her? — Wanting to be in the Loop

A cancer diagnosis is one of the scariest things a person and their loved ones can experience; it’s totally normal that you have a range of emotions. I suspect the hurt and betrayal you say you feel by your mother’s behavior is actually fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and helplessness re-branded in your mind as emotions that best reflect the kind of victimization we feel during traumatic experiences. In doing this, you make your mother’s cancer about you – your hurt and betrayal, when in fact it’s your mother who is suffering the most, and any discussion you have with her should center on that one fact instead of on your own pain. She is already carrying enough burden, so don’t add to it; remember that your desire in being kept in the loop is to provide support, so you want to show her that you can be supportive and not make her illness about you and your needs.

Here’s a simple script you can use and tweak as it makes sense for your situation and relationship with your mother:

“Mom, I am concerned about your health and well-being, and I want to be there for you as part of your support system as you fight cancer. I know you’re my mom and it’s usually you supporting me, but I’m a grown-up now, I can handle adult responsibilities like caring for loved ones who are ill, and it would mean so much to me if you could entrust me, like you do with Dad and Aunt and Sister, with details of your tests and treatment. I love you, and a really important way to return the love you’ve given me all my life is to support you through this challenging time. Please let me do that.”

I also second Kate’s suggestion in the forums to reach out to your dad (or maybe your aunt or your sister), if you don’t make headway with your mother, and let them know how important it is to you that you be kept in the loop. But again, center your mother in these discussions and your desire to support her and the rest of the family, and not your feeling hurt and betrayed. Centering your own pain here does the opposite of what you want, which is to convey your ability to give (emotional support, love, maybe even logistical help) rather than take (emotional support from others to tend to your hurt feelings).

From the forums:

I recently made friends with someone who keeps talking about her postpartum depression every time we meet. She always seems stressed out, she talks a lot, and it’s hard to get a word in when she starts talking. She has two kids (one toddler and a 5 year-old) and has a good career. The kids seem ok, though I know the older one gets spanked from time to time if he misbehaves. She has shared that one of the reasons for her depression in the past was a negligent partner and that she was hospitalized once after her second one was born. I don’t know how to deal with this situation since it’s new to me, and I don’t know her family well enough to interfere. We sometimes meet up in groups of 3-4 women, but I don’t think she has any other friends. I don’t know how to respond when she brings up her depression issues. Please help. — Concerned


This is tricky because you are new friends still learning about each other, getting to know one another, and figuring out whether you are compatible. It may simply be a matter of incompatibility, but if there’s enough you like about this woman and enough that you share in common, it would be worth extending yourself to ask how you might be of support to her. Maybe she has a concrete answer. Maybe she just needs someone to listen to her. But you’re not her therapist, and your friendship shouldn’t be solely based on your serving as her sounding board.

If she doesn’t have many friends and there isn’t family nearby supporting her, and she’s telling you both that her partner has been negligent in the past and her depression was so bad she required hospitalization (assuming that’s why she was hospitalized), it’s worth trying to find out if she’s in any danger at home. I understand that you feel like you don’t know her family well enough to interfere, but she sure is trying to share a lot about herself in an effort to bridge the gap of unfamiliarity. This may be her attempt to get help, so ask her if there’s anything you can do for her. If she doesn’t bite and if this budding friendship leaves you feeling exhausted or like you’re giving more than you’re getting, it’s ok to move on or to make yourself less available for hanging out.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

13 comments… add one
  • Cyndi November 4, 2021, 9:14 am

    LW1- sometimes it’s just a parent being a parent. Not realizing how stressful not knowing is. My late mom would also do this. She had various illnesses but the one that was the worse was heart related. She never really confided in us 4 kids. One time she was going to have a stent put in her heart – one of many- instead at the dr, she was she had to have open heart surgery. Mom called us from the hospital, told us it would be the next day. Dad got on the phone. I said do you want us there? He said no. Go to work. I’ll call you if she dies. WTH??? So we went to work. Years later, the only time she called me & my 3 siblings together was when an abdominal aneurysm was found. She finally passed at 75 after her second heart surgery. They had to have help then, dad at 77 was too old to deal with it alone. She was trying to protect her children- even though we were grown-ups. Honor her choice. Pay attention to conversations when you are with your parents. Offer support and then step back.

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  • Phoebe November 4, 2021, 9:29 am

    I love Wendy’s answer to LW1. Don’t make it about you, even though your hurt is coming from a place of worry. I know when I’m not well I don’t want to tell my parents, because when I do, they call constantly to check up on me, and want details. If they need to know something I’ll tell them, but don’t be in my face all of the time! Explaining what’s going on and reassuring others is exhausting. And although people say they just want to be there to support and help, really, sometimes we just don’t want that.

    People who care and want to support have a terrible time understanding and believing this.

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  • Bittergaymark November 4, 2021, 4:44 pm

    LW1) Your mom is actually telling you quite a bit about her condition. Only it’s in code. But nobody who is gleefully kicking Cancer in the behind says cryptic things such as: “You know doctors say a bunch of things. I don’t wanna spread bad vibes by discussing them again.” Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’d brace myself if I were you.

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  • Oracle November 5, 2021, 1:28 am

    LW1. Have you asked those who you think your mom has confided in what’s going on? They may know less than you think. If your mom does does not want to talk about the cancer with you , honor that. I take it you know what type of cancer your mom has. Research it. Personally it does not sound so good. Give your mom a break. It’s hard enough on her as it is. LW2. Just listen.

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  • allathian November 5, 2021, 2:00 am

    LW1, WWS. If you can show your mother that you can make this about supporting her rather than asking for her support to deal with your feelings about her illness, she may open up. Or she may not, but she certainly won’t if she gets the feeling that you’re asking because you want her to allay your anxieties. That’s not her job. Instead, try to look for others, who are less involved with your mother, to share your burden, so that you can support her better. The circle of grief works here, too, support in, anxieties out.

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  • Phoebe November 5, 2021, 10:09 am

    This could be true…or it could be the opposite. She’s going to have to figure out her mother.

    I recently dealt with some health stuff and as I got better, there was no way I was talking about it. I just knew in my head if I told anyone I was getting better, I’d be calling people later to give them bad news.

    In my mind, it was similar to making sure a pregnancy is very solid before announcing. It’s a positive thing, but there’s so much that can go wrong you don’t tell people for a while.

    And I actually am not a wet blanket at parties.

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    • Phoebe November 5, 2021, 10:10 am

      This was intended to be a response to “not wanting to talk about it = it’s bad news.” Oops.

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  • Brise November 8, 2021, 5:20 pm

    LW1, I think that your mother doesn’t talk to you about her illness because it breaks her heart. She is in protective mode with you and your brother. She wants to be there for you, not to collapse and rely on you for support. Just show affection to her, hug her and talk to your dad.

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  • Brise November 8, 2021, 5:30 pm

    LW2: frankly I don’t think that you should interfere in her family matters, especially as you don’t know her well. Just react with empathy. Don’t try to do anything special. If you happen to develop a friendship, you will hang out and have some fun together. But for while I would just be an empathetic listener though not let her doing a monologue for ever. Ask if she feels better now and what worked for her, or what helped her cope

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  • Salli November 11, 2021, 8:41 am

    LW1 as others have said your feelings are absolutely valid, and you deserve support too. Your mother can’t be the one to help you, but you can talk to supportive friends, a therapist, a group in person or on social media for family members of people with cancer. By having that outlet for your emotions and concerns and your own supports, you’ll be in a better place to then support your mother however she’d like to be supported. In sure she wants just one part of her life or one interaction to not he about her cancer, when it seems all consuming and all anyone wants to know or cares about. She might well be feeling that she’s no longer a human or a mom or wide etc and has just become a walking diagnosis. Let her be a mom.

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  • Bittergaymark November 11, 2021, 1:30 pm

    Eh… I don’t think her feelings are valid. If the world stopped validating everything fricking feeling people have — maybe people would actually grow up and start getting over things.

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    • Salli November 11, 2021, 3:06 pm

      Yes, I could have been more specific. I mean valid as in I can see how she feels that way based on her perspective. Not that it’s appropriate for her to let those feelings control her actions or force others to make them feel better. We’ve somehow lost that we can have feelings and not have to act on them.

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  • DJ November 30, 2021, 3:31 pm

    Perhaps LW could join a support group for carers and those who have loved ones with cancer. If there isn’t a local face to face one there would be zoom or similar groups!
    Does LE have friends who aren’t involved to talk to!

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