Ask Dr. Giles: How do we even begin to deal with this?

Cindy asks:

My mother was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in June 2007. She has surgery to remove a tumor the size of an orange in the right lobe of her liver. She then underwent 9 chemo treatments. In June of 2011 she was diagnosed with stage 4 cholangiocarcinoma that metastized to her lungs and lymph nodes, ironically her liver is clear. She has been given maybe 2 years with chemo, about 1 year without chemo. How do we even begin to deal with this? I don’t know how to accept the fact that I am losing my mother!


My thoughts are with you as you face your mother’s serious condition. The prospect of losing a loved one is never easy, yet it is something each of us will face sooner or later. I am sometimes asked which I would prefer: to lose a loved one suddenly or to lose a loved one after the decline of a drawn-out illness. While each scenario is difficult for different reasons, after having seen both scenarios personally I would choose losing a loved one after a drawn-out illness. The main reason I would chose that scenario is because it provides an opportunity to spend precious time with them and to make precious, enduring memories.

May I suggest that you develop a pro-active approach to your remaining time with your mother. Whether you live near your mother or not, please consider increasing the time you typically spend with her. Look for opportunities to express your love and gratitude to her. Gather memories and stories from her as she reminisces about her life. Record them for posterity. I recently heard of a man who spent many hours making an audio recording of himself reading his favorite book so that, after his death, his posterity could hear his voice and also be exposed to what he believed was an important and valuable book.

Sit down with your mother and talk about the near future. Talk about her expectations of how the time should be spent. Talk about her expectations of herself and of those around her. Make plans to have significant experiences with her loved ones. It may seem strange to be planning out the remaining time your mother has with you, but it’s better than letting the time pass without any deliberate efforts at all. It may be that your mother will survive much longer than what was originally predicted. Regardless of the time she has left–whether it is one month or twenty years–I doubt you will regret any effort made to create sweet memories with your mother.