Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: There is a strong likelihood that I am going to be diagnosed with cancer soon, when test results come back. My husband and I are trying to consider what this will mean for our family. If I do have cancer, my parents will want to come out to where we live and "help." I'm close with my parents, but I have never found them to be helpful in a crisis. Over the past few years, they have started to have difficulty traveling (one is afraid of flying, the other is afraid of driving on highways). Our house is small and doesn't easily accommodate guests, and staying in a hotel for the long term would be too expensive. Their way of being "helpful" is also often not a way that I find helpful. My experience with them when I came home after a C-section was not good. In short, I would be happy if they came to emotionally support me and my family through surgery and the immediate aftermath, but I really don't want them trying to "help" me in the long run. Is there a graceful way to make this clear, because if I am recovering from major cancer surgery and/or doing cancer treatments I do not want the stress and anxiety.
DEAR PREPARING: First of all, anticipate that you will have to treat them with tenderness. As a mother, try to imagine how it might feel to learn your child is seriously ill.
Your partner (and/or other family members) should help to draw a loving boundary around you so that you can get the care and "help" you need. If your diagnosis comes, be very honest with your folks and compassionate about the level of worry and stress for them. Be very friendly and firm about the rest of it: "I can only have you with us for a very short stay. I can't relax and recover when there are too many people in the house. One of us will call you every day." Find specific jobs for them. Can they prepare a special photo album for you to have and leaf through, or send you recipes for your favorite childhood dishes? Could they be in charge of creating a phone tree and notifying other family members whenever there is an update? Keep them involved; the less powerless and more necessary they feel, the less they will need to "help." Consider creating a web page through caringbridge.org. This is a great tool for managing news and coordinating care during a medical crisis.
DEAR AMY: My husband's brother and his wife are going through a divorce. They have a teenage daughter who is anxious and depressed. She has always been a moody child, but she has been through a lot. Her mother had two close calls with cancer, and now her parents have split, although they are on friendly terms. Her father wants the daughter to go to therapy. His daughter lives with her mother, and her mother seems not to believe in counseling, so nothing is being done to treat my niece's depression. She is deteriorating, and I worry what might become of her when she heads to college next year. Is there any way to help her?
DEAR WORRIED: Your niece's father should check the language in his divorce decree to see if he can legally seek a mental health evaluation for his daughter without his former wife's permission. Otherwise he should be very open with the girl; tell her he believes therapy could be a very good thing for her; and urge her to seek help on her own behalf. At her age, she can start to advocate for herself, and her father should encourage her to do this -- certainly when she gets to college, but hopefully before.
DEAR AMY: Thank you so much for your wise and compassionate response to "Angry in Anaheim," who was upset that his family members were respecting his elderly father's advance directive DNR. These decisions are the individual's to make. Family members and medical staff must respect them.
DEAR BEEN THERE: I've "been there" too. Thank you.