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Sister In Law's Father Has Pancreatic Cancer - How Can I Help?


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My sister in law's father was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer a little over a year ago. He luckily was able to get rid of the cancer and has been in remission for over a year now. Unfortunately last week, she got the news that the cancer is back and has spread slightly. We all know that with this cancer, it is only a matter of time before he will pass away. We have all been very optimistic, hopeful & joyful that he has been able to be healthy this past year, but now the news has created a reality check.

I've told her already that I am here for her for whatever she needs, and I also told her I don't know what to say, so I can just listen. Is there anything else I can do to support her in this time where she really will have to see the deterioration of her dad?

Thanks for your advice.

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I'm so sorry to learn this sad news, and I commend you for looking for ways to be supportive to your sister-in-law. I invite you to read my article, Helping Another in Grief, which includes suggestions for helping before a death has happened. Meanwhile, please know that we join you in holding your family tenderly in our thoughts and prayers.

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I can sympathize with your sister-in-law very closely right now. My Dad was diagnosed with Stage 1 Pancreatic Cancer in November 2010, and passed away this October. Initially, when Dad told me of his diagnosis, I was all over the internet to get answers. The prognosis for this type of cancer was grim, and I believed he was going to die regardless of it being Stage 1. After his surgery, and meeting others who had survived years, I believed my dad would beat it. He was strong and could do anything right?! Not the case. Right up until the last weeks of his life I believed they would find a way to 'fix' him. When they told us he was terminal, I accepted it and lived each day as if he were dying. But I never really embraced it. In the back of my mind I thought 'just maybe'.

It is wonderful that you want to be there for your sister-in-law because she is going to need all the support she can get, even if it is doing nothing other than just letting her know you are there. Some days I really needed to talk to people, to vent my anger and frustration, and to cry on a shoulder. Other days the constant texts, phone calls, and e-mails from people wanting to help me and asking me if there was anything they could do really frustrated me. On those days it just seemed overwhelming. Of course there was nothing they could do...they couldn't save my dad!

The best thing you can do for your sister-in-law is let her take the lead. Don't constantly push to be there, hug her, talk to her, etc. Let HER let you know what she needs at that moment. She is going to go through a whole roller-coaster of emotions on a day to day basis. One minute she may be angry, the next a basket case of tears and denial. She may say, do, and want things that aren't normally characteristic of her, but this is normal in grief. Don't take anything personally. What you do for her one day may be embraced and appreciated that day, but upset and disgust her the next. It's ALWAYS ok to ask how her dad is doing, but don't push her to talk about anything more than she offers.

Watching my dad die was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I will always cherish the time I got to spend with him before the end. Your sister-in-law may not see it right now, but she is lucky to have that opportunity too. My best friend lost her mother suddenly and has spent 20 years regretting her last words, things that went unsaid, and things she never got to apologize for. I will never feel that regret. I miss my dad terribly, and am still angry at his death, but I had the time to say goodbye.

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I think the best intentions are often unsaid, but acted upon. I think if you are close, offer to take her out, give her a break, especially if she has the task of small children, and family to take care of. As a mother myself, sometimes, the best gift was just the presence of someone who cared to tell me, that I deserved a break! Listen to her, and offer to advice only when asked. What a great sister in law you are!

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