Ask Dr. Giles: How to come to grips with my breast cancer and my dad’s diagnosis

Claudia writes:

My father was diagnosed 3 weeks ago with cholangiocarcinoma, we did not know the extent of the cancer and surgery was what was recommended. They removed gall bladder, 60% of liver and reconnected the intestine to liver. Now he has major complications, a leak somewhere and he is very weak. I am having a difficult time coming to terms with this as I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer myself this past March. I had my mastectomy in late April. We are 3 daughters and we are either fighting or crying, my mom is still in shock. Any suggestions on how to begin to get a grip? how do we come to terms that we thought it would me be fighting for my life and instead it is my father.


How difficult it must be to be preparing for one fight and then to have another serious fight added to it! Many times we are tempted to ask “why me?” when faced with such difficulty. We seek answers which will help us make sense of such challenges, but those answers are usually hard to come by.

While each member of your family is trying to make sense of what is happening, it is important to focus on pulling together instead of pulling away. For varying reasons, you, your parents, and both of your sisters are all in need of love and compassion from each other during this very challenging time. Providing that love and compassion for each other will require focusing on what it must be like for each member:

  • What must it be like to have a daughter and a husband who are very sick with cancer? Do the requirements of caring for those loved ones feel overwhelming and impossible to meet? Is she afraid of being alone? What does a mother in shock need from her family to feel understood and cared for?
  • What must it be like to be healthy, but to have a sister and father who are not? Is there guilt? Is there fear of being the next one to be sick? What does a healthy sister need from her family to feel understood and cared for? Is it even OK for a healthy sister to need anything from her family?
  • What must it be like to be a father who is sick–sicker than his daughter who was originally the “one who was sick?” Is there a feeling of failure to be strong and confident? Is there concern about leaving his wife and daughters behind through death? What does a father who is sick from cancer need from his family to feel understood and cared for?
  • What must it be like for the daughter who is also sick? Does she feel helpless to do more because of her own health issues? Does she feel alone in her fight because the focus is on her father? What does the daughter who is also sick need from her family to feel understood and cared for?

Claudia, your demonstrations of compassion and love will provide a much-needed balm to the members of your family and may be a catalyst for the others to follow suit. At such times as these, families can find comfort from each other if they will pull together rather than pull away.