Last week my friend Gail told me she was put into an extremely difficult situation. Her mother’s oncologist called Gail to inform her of her mother’s terminal cancer and asked Gail to break the fateful news to her mother. By way of background Gail and her mother live in different cities. And Gail’s mother had an appointment with the oncologist two days later.
What should one do in a situation like that? How ethical is it when your mother’s doctor relies on you to inform your parent that she has an untreatable cancer?
Isn’t it the doctor’s responsibility to do that? How should one frame a message that is so heart-wrenching as informing your parent that her days are literally numbered. Once you’ve taken that step and bravely, and perhaps tearfully, broken the fateful news, how do you respond to such questions as: How serious is the cancer? How long do I have to live? Are there treatments that will possibly cure, or if not cure, delay the inevitable? And worst of all, what should Gail’s reply be if her mother asks: “What do you think I should do?”
Well, Gail broke the news to her mother. It couldn’t have been easy telling your parent that she is going to die…soon. Gail also promised to come home to accompany her Mom to her appointment.
Gail’s mother received the news with equanimity. Knowing that Gail’s knowledge was limited and that she had an appointment with the oncologist two days later, her mother had only one request of Gail: that she be strong because she would need her daughter’s fortitude and love more than ever in the months to come.