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Q. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last fall. My husband is having a difficult time with the diagnosis, one part of him his preparing, checking her will, and other practical tasks, while the other part of him is very angry—including bitterness towards most in the medical community. This anger is reflected back on myself and our son. I have mentioned counseling to him, to which he said he probably does need, but I need help in getting him to the right sources. I want to be there for support, but also need boundaries of what is acceptable. I appreciate your help with my questions and concerns.


I am sorry to hear about your mother-in-law’s diagnosis, and that it has caused conflict within your home. A cancer diagnosis can bring a myriad of emotions—sadness, anger, bitterness, and fear are some of them. Your husband probably feels powerless in his mother’s diagnosis, and that too is causing him a deep unrest in his soul. He wants to do all he can for his mother, but really does not know what might help her. So, what can he do? First thing, you are correct—counseling might help him address his feelings of loss of control and his fear about what may lie ahead for his mother. Talking about fears is often the best way to assuage them. It is very important that he has at least a modicum of self-care in his daily routine. He may be rushing to work, then rushing to visit mom, maybe taking care of some things at home, going to bed late, and not sleeping well. And this means that he is really not taking time to promote his health. Is he eating well, taking walks, listening to music, relaxing?

I am unsure how old your son is, but if he is young enough, I always suggest that you sit at the dinner table (at least once a week—together) and discuss the good things that are happening and what you are grateful for. Promoting gratitude promotes happiness. Having a family movie night where you watch fun and uplifting movies can also be helpful. Promoting laughter and joy is imperative right now so that you recognize that cancer cannot remove the healthy core of your home. Sit next to each other and hold his hand—the power of touch cannot be denied.

You can call our Hopeline at 800-813-4673, and speak to an oncology social worker. We will let you know about our services that may be helpful to you, your husband and your mother-in-law. We do have an online pancreatic cancer caregiver’s support group that might be helpful. We may also be able to direct you to support services in your immediate area, if you do not live in New York or New Jersey. In the meantime, let your husband know that you are worried about everything too, but the most important thing is that you tackle this together. You are on the same team; remind him of that.

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