A broken family

Two years ago, my wife’s gynecologist discovered something in her breast, and we went to have it examined. We were so nervous that day and the waiting until we got the results back was nerve-wracking.  When the results came back it was good news though, so we celebrated a lot. My wife’s mood and personality started to change. She could get furious with me for no apparent reason. In the beginning, I thought it was just stress. Some months later the lump in her breast had become very big and I asked her to go and have another test. She said this was unnecessary. Four months later she got a fracture on her rib during a workout at the gym and this never seemed to heal. I wanted her to go to the hospital and have a thorough checkup, but she refused. At this time her personality had changed quite a lot. There could be a week when everything was fine, but then all of a sudden, she got extremely angry. I didn’t really know what to do so I tried to stay away. We have three children, and I was worried about them seeing their mother so angry at their father.

One day about a year ago, she asked for a divorce and went away since she needed some time by herself. I stayed home with our three children. I talked regularly with my wife especially about her health since the pain in her back didn´t really want to go away. One day, she mentioned that she had bruises on her thighs. I asked her to show them to me (we had a video call) and when I saw all those bruises, I told her she must go to the hospital immediately and have it checked. This time she went to the hospital and her blood values were so bad she had to have a transfusion. When the verdict came it was metastatic breast cancer (ER/PR+ Her2-) with multiple bone metastasis and bone marrow invasion. She continued to act like it wasn´t that big of a deal, and that she would soon get better. I had a lot of contact with her doctor who said it is terminal and that it is very difficult to say how long time she has left, but that few people with her diagnosis survive five years. When I asked if my wife knew this, he responded that she didn’t since the common practice is not to talk about prognosis unless the patient asks for it.

This has been a year ago now, and her mood continues to change rapidly and without warning. Sometimes I’m allowed to be there and help her, other times she screams at me. Lately, she has started to tell things to the kids that she claims I have done, and I really do not know how to handle this. I arranged for my children to see a therapist, which has improved things a bit, but the children are still very quiet and do not want to talk about the situation. I have a very good relationship with the children; I have worked from home ever since they were born and for the last two years, I have been their primary caretaker.

I just don´t know what to do. I’m so afraid of what impact this will have on our children, and I feel so incapable of not being able or allowed to help my wife. She is only 40 years old and our youngest is only 5 years. Sometimes she sends me a message late in the evenings writing she is afraid and then I call her, and we can talk, but those are becoming rarer. At night when the children are sleeping, I just sit and cry and the same thoughts are coming up in my head all the time. I’m eating antidepressants and some time ago I tried stopping, but after a few days, I couldn’t control the tears. I could sit at the dining table with my children eating dinner when I feel the tears coming down my cheeks. I try to hide this by dimming the lights telling the children it’s more cozy this way, but I’m not sure they’re convinced and now I have started taking the medication again.  

I really don’t know what to say, John, but felt I had to acknowledge your post. It’s heart-breaking.  It took a lot of courage to put it all into writing.

As someone with secondary breast cancer, I can empathise with your wife’s position. There’s no reason why she needs to know the prognosis and it can in fact be detrimental. The important thing is not to regard this as ‘terminal’ (a word rarely used now thank god). It’s a condition to be managed, with the understanding that there is no actual cure. But anything can happen.

As for your medication, that’s what it’s there for - to help us through impossible challenges. And yours is by no means over. Please don’t see it as anything but necessary and if it helps you control your emotions for the sake of the children, then so be it. But is there anything wrong in their seeing their father is human?

Please find someone you can talk to. If you’re in the UK, the Nurses’ Helpline here (number top right) is a fantastic service and they can point you to other sources of support. There may be a match up with Someone Like Me. They may suggest you contact Macmillan. You may have a Maggie’s Centre you can access. These services are not just for patients - cancer’s shadow stretches far and anyone under that shadow can get support of some kind.

I do hope there’s a happier resolution for your whole family but it seems, from what you write, that it must come from your wife. Take care,

Jan x

Dear John

It is shocking to read your posts. I can see your wife is in denial about her situation and has removed herself from the support of her family and from her children seeing how ill she is. Well that’s my interpretation of what’s happening. You are being strong for the sake of your children and are doing your best to deal with what for me would be an intolerable place to be.

I am also on antidepressants and I behaved badly to my husband. I had found the lump and didn’t tell him. I find it difficult to trust people and I had decided he would not support me. It was delusional. He has been there for me. I did everything to test him to the limit. I had surgery and said I was leaving him! He looked devastated. I was out of my mind. I will say no more except that you are doing your best. I am thinking of you. Your family is not broken because you are soldiering on despite everything. 

Dear @John Nathan   you will be in my thoughts from now on.


@John Nathan  


I am no expert, but I am wondering if your wife knows exactly what her likely prognosis is even though it hasn’t come through a doctor and is trying to distance herself from you/push you away because:

  1. it is just too hard to be with you all, looking at you all, loving you all so much but knowing she won’t be able to stay as long as she would like and how hurtful that will all be.

  2. she knows you will have to live without her and is getting you into that practice now.

  3. if you ‘don’t like’ her, it will be easier for you all when she leaves you.

Did your wife have any brain scans during her investigations - I also wondered if there are any metastatic brain lesions changing her mood or whether it is just fear and sadness?

The fact that sometimes she calls you, it appears to me that she is trying to keep away and not show how much she cares but every so often she breaks. It sounds to me that she loves you all so much that she is trying to protect you in her own way but not giving you an option, and not seeing that bigger picture because she is just so sad.

I hope the counselling helps you all to find strength and a way forward.

Big hugs


Hello John,

 You are a caring man. A good father and good decision maker.

Unfortunately we can not control others, even if they are our children, mom, father, better half etc.

We CAN control ourselves. And be the example.

I have breast cancer and it is very sad, fear producing etc…

But… I am very joyful and kind everyday. 

Here is a list I look at and follow everyday.

“The 9 Fruits of the Spirit” are the following and when I have trouble I adhere to them because they are solid:

  • LOVE
  • JOY

You deserve to stay well. 

These may be helpful for you and your children as they are from the bible.

(Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth)

P.S. When you say celebrated, if it was with alcohol here is something to ponder;

The ethanol in alcoholic drinks breaks down to acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen.

This compound damages DNA and stops our cells from repairing the damage.

This can allow cancerous cells to grow.


Kind Regards,


Dear John,

I have just joined the forum and have read your post - sorry to hear your difficulty.

My younger sister was diagnosed with primary breast cancer 6 years ago, then last year this was compounded with a further diagnosis of secondary.

It’s been a rough ride since her diagnosis and maybe a little before as well. As her only sister, her angst is directed towards me (and probably her husband). Every time she has difficult news, a new wave of hostility comes my way. She refuses to discuss her treatment with me or our mum, which is fair enough, but it’s hard to know how best to support when I have no information (I then get blamed for being out of touch with what she is going through). At the moment we are going through a phase where she has cut off contact with me. Unwittingly my mum seems to collude with this, as she wants to protect her relationship with my sister. I want to help my sister but feel rejected and confused, she also cuts off contact between her 11 year old daughter and I which causes great sadness.

I have gleaned some support from Macmillan in terms of trying to get information about what my sister is going through medically but at times could really do with a friends and family support group to deal with my sisters anger towards me. I wish my family were in a place where they could access emotional support so that we could get through this together. I have had my own therapeutic support for some time but it doesn’t always protect from these very difficult family dynamics and some days I feel like I am showing signs of classic depression. It’s a shame there isn’t a bit more help for families as this could really strengthen the support one could offer the family member with cancer. In the meantime I feel like I am being told to stay away as if I no longer exist.

I hope your situation is easing somewhat and wish you, your family and your wife best wishes.