What can I do to help my mother stop crying all the time?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother, who has metastatic breast cancer, has started crying all the time, and it upsets both of us. She says she can't help it. Is there anything I can do?

Expert Answer

Jeffrey Knajdl is director of psycho-oncology services in the Cancer Counseling program at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

This is a very common problem. Some cancer patients tear up at every little thing, or they'll start crying and be unable to stop. They can't control it, which just makes them feel more frightened and frustrated by everything that's happening to them.

First, don't let yourself be intimidated by the tears. If your mom needs to cry, then let her do it. It can be a healthy release, and it may be the only way she can communicate how she's feeling right now.

But if all she can do is cry, then you need to look into it and find out if there's something biochemical going on. Uncontrollable crying can be a symptom of low serotonin levels in the brain, which can occur because of chemotherapy, radiation, and other cancer treatments. You don't have to use the terms depression or antidepressant, which cancer patients might resist. Try saying to your mother, "It seems like when you try to communicate, the tears are getting in the way. The doctor has some suggestions for how to deal with this. There are medications that can be helpful. Let's go talk to him about it." If your mother finds she's crying when she doesn't want to and it embarrasses her, then she'll appreciate your helping her find another way to communicate.