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Mariah's avatar

What do I do, if anything, to help out a family friend who is in denial about her daughter's disease?

Asked by Mariah (19182 points ) November 10th, 2011

My hairdresser’s daughter has ulcerative colitis, the same chronic condition I have. The daughter is a few years younger than me, and we went to high school together, but I’ve never talked to her. Her mother is familiar with my situation, though.

When we go to get our hair done, the mother talks with my mom and me about her daughter’s illness, and over the years we’ve noticed her saying some really misguided things. Things like “we think she’ll grow out of it” and “she’s keeping really busy. She’s too busy to get sick.” It’s really obvious she’s in denial that disease doesn’t conform to your schedule, but Mom and I have never said anything to her about this, and in the past it never mattered because it always seemed like the daughter had fairly mild ulcerative colitis anyway.

I was surprised to find out today, however, that the daughter has just spent a week in the hospital because she was very ill, and she had to start taking the same heavy-duty drug that I used to take before surgery. This means her disease has gotten to be severe. Now she’s thinking about getting surgery. I have had the surgery, and I’m very happy with my decision to do so, but it is major surgery, it’s a big decision, and the process was a long and bumpy road. The girl’s mother seems to be laboring under the delusion that getting your colon out is a bit like getting your tonsils out, and this won’t be any big deal. I know that one should never give unasked-for advice, but it’s killing me to sit back and watch this girl and her mother go into this uninformed. Do I say anything? Just offer my shoulder to lean on? Mind my own business?

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9 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

I think you should offer to speak to the daughter. Ask the mom in a non-accusatory way, such as “I’ve been through that, how about I meet your daughter to let her know what to expect and how I am doing.”

She may resist, but soften it with “I know I would have liked to talk to someone besides a doctor or nurse.”

It’s hard to tell if the mom is in absolute denial, or is trying to put a brave face on it. Chances are she is scared shitless (no pun intended) that she will lose her daughter.

I had a friend who lived a very productive life until the age of 56. He had ulcerative colitis and related problems from the time he was 12, and spent so much time at Stanford Medical Center when we were in high school that we joked he had his own room there. When we were older, he once told me he felt so lonely then because there was no one his age to talk to.

Good luck!

snowberry's avatar

Yes. Try to talk to the daughter. It’s her body, and her mother, as much as she’d like to manage or deny things, is only an onlooker.

marinelife's avatar

Offer to talk to the daughter and the mother about your own experience with the surgery and what she needs to think about before making her decision.

Mariah's avatar

Would it be too forward to send the daughter a facebook friend request with an attached message explaining who I am and offering to talk?

6rant6's avatar

Seems to me that your instinct is to offer advice that conflicts with doctors’ recommendations. So far all you really know is your experience and a bit of the girls’ life filtered through her mother – all of which you take with a grain of salt. Seems to me you’ve already reached conclusions based on this third hand and scant evidence.

I wouldn’t want you talking to my daughter, based on that.

I mean, I’m the first one to second guess a doctor if I know what’s going on. I always vote for the second opinion. But I am put off by people who want to give medical advice based on the fact that they have had an illness and have a sample of one to draw on.

Mariah's avatar

@6rant6 What? No, I’m not wanting to contradict a doctor’s recommendations at all. I just want these people to have realistic expectations as to what will happen and to understand that this isn’t a disease you “grow out of,” nor is this a surgery you heal from in a week’s time.

nikipedia's avatar

I think a facebook friending would be ok. But remember, all you can do is give these people information. There is no way you can make them take any advice you give.

Mariah's avatar

@nikipedia Sure, I don’t have any desire to influence their decisions in the matter; it’s their decision. I just want it to be an informed decision.

Kardamom's avatar

I wouldn’t approach the daughter first, since you don’t know her and it might make the mom nervous and uncomfortable, or she might think that you are not qualified to be dispensing medical advice (we know that’s not true, but the mom might think so, because she’s scared).

But what would be really nice if for you to send a nice letter to the mom (so you can say what you need/want to say without her interrupting you) and just let her know that you would love to meet with her and her daughter for a meet and greet so that you can act as a mentor to her daughter while she’s going through this situation and so that you can be a sounding board for them if they want to pick your brain. Let her know that this condition is very serious and you know they must be worried and apprehensive and that is why you are offering to talk to them. If you know of some good places to get information on the subject, list those places so that she can go to them on her own, or look them up on line if they are websites. Then put all of your contact info (including your offer of FB) at the end of the letter and then just wait.

If the mom is in denial, she might not want to talk to you now, but she may change her mind sometime down the line. So if you put it out there to her, but then refrain from hounding her about it (even though I can see why you would want to hound her) then she can decide if and when she and her daughter will talk to you.

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