What do I do when my parent's doctor tells me something important and suggests that I not tell my parent?

2 answers | Last updated: Nov 26, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 82-year-old father's colorectal cancer is not responding well to treatment and the latest blood test results weren't positive, but the oncologist suggested we not talk to my dad about this yet. It doesn't feel right to have information and not share it with my father -- what do I do?

Expert Answers

Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone with Cancer," "The Journey of Grief," "Handbook on Hospice and Palliative Care," and other titles on cancer diagnosis and end of life. She speaks regularly at cancer research and support functions, including PANCAN and Cancer Survivor's Network. She is a former member of the Executive Committee of the CSN at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta and the Georgia Chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

This happens more often than you might think, usually because the doctor feels that protecting your parent from certain negative information will prevent depression, anxiety, or other problems. However, it can lead to increased anxiety for you as a caregiver -- you have important information but you can't act on it -- and put a strain on your relationship with your parent. Secrets often get in the way of having a healthy, relaxed relationship.

The best solution to this situation is to notice your discomfort on the spot and say to the doctor that you'd be more comfortable if she would share the information with your parent. However, most of us don't react so quickly and only realize after the fact that we're uneasy with what happened. In this case, you can do one of two things. You can call the doctor and explain that you've realized you'd prefer not to keep information from your parent, then ask the doctor to communicate the test results and prognosis with your father. Or you can decide to tell your father yourself that there's been bad news, then follow up with the doctor who can explain what to do next.

One exception, however, is when there's been some bad or worrying news but the doctor is still awaiting further test results. In this case, it can be a good idea to wait until all the information is in before discussing the situation with your dad.

Community Answers

Hello answered...

I am sure you father is aware of what is going on and the treatments are not working. The Dr is placing a heavy burden on you by keeping a secret and may deprive your dad precious moments with you. I would question the Dr why it should be kept a secret. If it is near the end of life-then your father needs to know so he express his feelings and needs.