Should Mom know her cancer is terminal?

4 answers | Last updated: Nov 07, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother is in mid-stages of Alzheimer's. Her short-term memory is very bad. At doctor's visits, she does not remember why we are there. She is in the process of being diagnosed with stage IV cancer, probably kidney, that has spread to her bones and lungs. My father died four years ago from lung cancer and she does remember how awful his pain was. Do I tell her she has terminal cancer? She will need to be told over and over--I don't know if I can bear it. Do I tell her once, then gloss over future questions of "why do I hurt?" Will knowing help her body fight? She is already very weak and not eating much. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Expert Answers

A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She is a well-known speaker and has written two books, one focusing on end-of-life care and the other, entitled The Magic Tape Recorder, explaining aging, memory loss, and how children can be helpers to their elders.

Telling your mother that she has a terminal illness will just cause her and you unhappy times. You are going to have to monitor her discomfort/pain. When she complains about pain make sure she has medication to help her. Then......just enjoy the time you have with her. Eat lot's of ice cream, laugh over old pictures and movies. These are special days for you both. Use hospice, they provide wonderful services for your mother and for you.

My prayers are with you.... Joyce Simard

Community Answers

No1baldeagle answered...

I would not have told my mother about a terminal illness, and its sounds to me that they were similar in their stage of dimentia. Ons reason I wouldn't tell her is that she will not remember it anyway. My mother was 88 and just passed away May 14th. Her dimentia was also causing her not to want to eat or drink much, and I knew she couldn't last long like that. I would not tell her and ask the doctors to make her as pain free as possible in the meantime. It's too frustrating to continually tell her things, especially unhappy things. Keep things positive and laugh a lot...even if its tough to do.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I agree, there's no point in telling her, she won't remember and you already have enough to deal with without continually reminding Mom of her condition.  As far as the pain in concerned, consider hospice.  My mom died of cancer 18+ months ago and we used hospice and they were awesome and Mom died pain free and peacefully at home with Dad and me.

Jannette13 answered...

My Mother is in the same predicament. She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that moved to her hip and broke her hip, thats how they found the cancer. We did 10 rounds of radiation and when we went back for more scans they said ALL the cancer except one spot on her lung was gone. And the spot on her lung had shrunk. My question is? Is it still stage 4 and will it stay away/