Do I tell my mom that she has cancer?

My mom has Dementia and I just found out that she has inoperable cancer. I am beside myself and unsure of what to do. Am I supposed to tell her? I don’t know how she will react and if she will want symptoms explained or if she will even remember and end up asking me over and over.

Do you think it will fill the rest of her life with distress?

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  1. What stage of dementia is she in? If she is still early on, then telling her may be helpful, however, if she is more advanced, I am not sure she will be capable of understanding and it could stress both of you out.

  2. Unfortunately, the answer is never cut and dry and will be different for each person’s unique circumstances. I have heard the book “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande has been a useful resource in making these intensely difficult decisions for many people in similar shoes.

    Talking with her primary care doctor about the risks related to sharing this news with her may also be a helpful starting place. If the stress of this information would cause undue hardship for both her and yourself, it may be best not to share. Best of luck and lots of love.

  3. Hi Zarima,

    Not an easy thing to do, deciding for someone with major decision like this. All you can do is let your heart guide you. There is no right or wrong answer. So if you can take clues from this persons life, their discussions and make the best choice you can. This situation ultimately depends on the stage of dementia and what the next steps for treatment are. If she is early stage and you will be seeking treatments, then it may be easier for her to be told to understand why there are increased appointments and different side effects. If she is at a more moderate stage in the disease and you feel this will significantly upset her and you are not pursuing aggressive treatments then it may be best to not disclose for the preservation of peace. Sending lots of love.

  4. I think this is a very individual issue on many levels. If you feel there is a way to explain it to mom without it upsetting her for the long term, then you may want to tell her. However, if it will really have a negative affect and she is unable to understand the situation, then holding off from telling her may be the best thing. You need to also think of yourself and make sure that not telling her is not something that will haunt you for years to come. Speaking with a behavioral therapist could be very helpful to you to help cope with the issues of guilt (if not telling her) or the stress of the entire situation.