Difficult family relationships, feeling let down by sibling

I’m posting here as this situation is on my mind a lot, and I honestly have no idea what to do any more or how to move forward in a productive way. Also I thought it might help to type it out too…

This is a long story below with a lot of background to give context but in brief
I’m a 39 (now) 3NBC survivor with 7 months of immunotherapy left before finishing a long course of treatment. My sister has been absent for most of this and I’m not sure how to move forward in my relationship with her now.

There are a lot of strained relationships in my family and always have been. My mother, is a very complex and complicated individual. She isn’t great at processing her emotions and this has often manifested as rage and anger towards everyone in our immediate family. For as long as I remember our family dynamic has been walking on egg shells around her trying to navigate her outbursts. I was always the scapegoat of the family and my sister was the golden child. My mother has also had a lot of her own health issues including an episode of 3NBC which occurred in her late 50s.

I was estranged from my parents for a year in my early 30s when she directed her angry outbursts/emotional abuse at me for a significant period of time. Looking back I’d say her anger was probably fuelled by some brattish behaviour from me and I could have behaved better - but also the anger was unproductive and unhelpful. It was also very triggering of a lot of childhood trauma. I eventually resolved the conflict by doing mediation with my parents where we redrew the boundaries of our relationship and they acknowledged and apologised for the trauma. With credit to them my parents have respected the boundaries we have drawn since and we’ve managed to create a much stronger relationship. My mother now no longer directs her outbursts at me. I have also had years of therapy so I believe I’m a lot harder to trigger than I have been in the past. During this conflict I did not involve my sister and told her to treat both relationships as separate.

HOWEVER since this has all happened my sister is now estranged from my parents. I believe her estrangement has probably happened for similar reasons as mine. Though it also comes with my sister wanting to protect her daughter from any of the angry outbursts that we have been subject too. I am equally frustrated and sympathetic to my sister situation, as I understand to a certain extend how she must feel, but also from the outside it appears no one has tried to resolve the conflict. (This has now being going on for two years.)

I have requested to be left out of this conflict as I wasn’t there when it started and I don’t fully understand it tbh. Also having worked hard on these relationships I’ve tried to maintain a neutral relationship with both parties. Both my parents and my sister have tried to involve me by complaining to me about the conflict and I’ve restated to leave me out of it.

My parents have respected leaving me out of it but when my sister tried to speak to me about the conflict she was visibly upset when I refused to get involved. After that she was distant with me in messages etc but I still believe refusal to get involved was the correct action to take.

One month after this interaction with her, I was told I had cancer, and then was told it was 3NBC. At 38, to say this was a shock is an understatement. I called my parents and sister in separately to tell them this news as sympathetically as I could, (eg I said alot of things like ‘I’m sorry this is not great and difficult for you to hear’.

My parents have been brilliant and have showed up regularly and helped as much as they can.
My sister however has been remarkably absent. She has sent gifts at regular intervals, and sends the occasional/monthly text message that says briefly ‘how are you’ in some form or other. The when I give her some details of treatment etc she tells me something to the effect of ‘how terrible for you, this is awful, bye’. And then it will be silence till the next ‘how are you’ text. She also will occasionally say things like ‘tell us if you need anything’. She has never called me, or even offered to call me. She has never offered to visit, or offered practical help. The last time I spoke to her/saw her on video call was when I told her I had cancer.

After 12 months of very intense treatment I am feeling very hurt by this, and I also feel angry. I cannot believe she wouldn’t even offer to call. Or even send more messages just chatting about life in general.

Also so much has happened to me that I feel she has no idea about or understanding of because she hasn’t been here, or engaged with me in any real way.

Now it appears we are in some kind of weird passive aggressive standoff, she is continuing to send the occasional ‘how are you’ or gift, which I am replying to, because I don’t want to make things even worse. But because I am so angry and upset I am keeping my replies as short as I can. The whole thing now feels incredibly toxic.

I feel I have two option (should I want to continue the relationship), either to confront her about how absent she’s been. Which to be honest I can only see escalating and making everything worse.

Or to eventually swallow my feelings and be cheerful and kind, and allow the toxicity to melt away. But how do I get to this place where I can do that? Because it feels very far away right now? Also it feels odd to have to be the one to reach out to arrange some kind of catch up, she hasn’t seen me since before I lost my hair, or had surgery and tbh I’m not looking forward to her reactions in the changes in my appearance because it only further highlights everything she’s missed.

I wish I could be gratefully accepting of the support she’s being willing to give me without focusing on what she hasn’t. Am I unfairly taking my anger out on her because I’m angry about the situation? Should I have been the one asking her to ring me rather than complaining that she hasn’t.

Advice and direction welcome because I feel stuck in a toxic stalemate and I don’t like it.


Hi Tilly,

Sorry for what you are going through. It resonated with me as many years ago when I was diagnosed (far from home, husband and family), a long-standing, very good friend in the town I was in, completely absented himself from any contact before and after surgery even though I needed help. He even cancelled a weekend i was meant to be staying with them (yes, I got the phone-calls, texts etc though). I was very hurt at the time, but I decided it was his problem and maybe he was unable to face the prospect that I may be terminally ill. When I was back(visiting my Mother) a couple of years later, and fully recovered, i got in touch and he couldn’t have made more fuss of me. We are back to being good friends again even though we live in different countries. We never discussed what had happened but i sensed a huge relief from him and his wife when i got in touch.

It is always hard to judge other people’s actions as we don’t know what ‘demons’ they are dealing with. For example, your sister might have been panicking at the thought of losing you, or struggling with coping with toxicity from your Mother, etc etc. We all need relationships as we move through life so if it was me, i would put my hurt to one side and reach out to my sister. Perhaps she is not as robust as you and may need time to come to terms with your illness.

I do hope things work out for both of you.

Eily xxx


I agree with Eily. This is a horrible situation to be in but i think some people truely dont know ehat to do/how to act around someone who has been diagnosed. She may have her own fears/anxiety (not being able to hold it together in front of you) that shes trying to hide.
You know feom previous experience how toxic family situations can get. Id try my best to let it go & make contact with her.
Good luck

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Dear Tilly,

You certainly have had a difficult time to say the least, I totally agree with Ellie, Sometimes families just can’t come to terms what’s happened to us they become afraid maybe hide in the corner it would be lovely if you could make friends with your sister, I feel she’s probably very concerned about you, but just doesn’t know how to handle it.

Maybe meet up outside your homes for a nice coffee and a good old chat and hopefully this will end up with a hug.

Wishing you well going forward with lots of happiness.

With love Tili​:pray::rainbow::pray::rainbow:


Thank you so much for taking the time to reply and share your experience. It was a long post so I really appreciate the time you took to read through it all. I’m sorry your friend wasn’t there for you, it’s fantastic you were able to put your feelings aside and reconnect.

I’m going to reply to everyone at once as they’ve said the same thing.

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Thank you so much for reading my long post and taking the time to reply. I’ll reply to everyone at once as all the advice recommends a similar approach.

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@Eily @Luskentyre1 @Tili

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my very long post and reply. I appreciate it.
You’ve all said the same thing, which is to be kind and reach out, and I absolutely think you’re all right. There’s no need to create more family fractures and disagreements.

My problem with doing this right now is that I am very angry and upset. I feel like if I reached out to my sister and she made any comment at all about how hard she is finding things, or my treatment or my appearance I’d find it hard not to say something cutting or passive aggressive in return. Also it stings to have to be the bigger person after everything. I feel like a pot that’s boiling over. HOWEVER that is what’s required and me wishing otherwise, or wanting her to realise isn’t going to get us anywhere.

I think what I’m going to do is take some time to process my anger and upset. I think maybe I’ll write a letter I don’t send where I can express all the awful things I want to say. And maybe throw some glass in the recycling bin loudly and have a bit of a shout… and then when I feel like no more anger is going to boil over and burn her I’ll reach out.

and if she contacts me in the meantime I’ll try my best to be friendly and chatty and break the passive aggressive cycle that’s started.

Thank you all again for your level headed and kind replies.


Hi TiilyN,

Thank you for the courage to write your post. You have shared very complex family relationships which sadly happens. Also, you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment. This is a huge amount to be dealing with. Through your description I can see that you love and care for your family, especially your sister but it is difficult for you to let them know this. I believe that it may be best to manage this in stages, starting with you first. Perhaps getting the support of a professional counsellor will help you to express and process all your feelings about your sister. Then, hopefully gaining insight and strength from this, move on to building back the relationship with your sister if this is her desire as well. Then with your mother and so on. Take care of yourself and I wish you all the best.


Darling girl what a lot to cope with
Absolutely think some personal and family counselling would be an option but for now concentrate on you and your feelings

Writing it down can help and definitely dont post it on to your family

Fear manifests all sorts of reactions so maybe being very specific about what help and support you want from your sister might be the starting point …something like the following…

IE i need you to acknowledge my cancer my fears my anxiety and i need you to hug me, love me im still me

Id also welcome some help with Xxx
For the next yyyy weeks/ months as this will reahelp me

Practice it with a safe friend

Get yourself to Maggies if you can and sign up for Macmillan counselling

Good luck xx


Thank you for sharing your story. I don’t particularly have any wise words apart from being able to relate. I have felt really let down by my family while going through treatment and as much as I have tried to reason with their response (or lack of it) it still hurts. I had one text message from my brother which just said ‘chin up’ :flushed: I am trying to focus on the support I have had and continue to have from my chosen family. My friends, my partner and partners family. Other peoples responses are not a reflection on how much they care, just a a reflection on how much they can cope with. Sending love and empathy xx


This is such an honest post. I feel for you as families at the best of times are complexed. In an ideal world (like the movies!!), something like a diagnosis of cancer would bring everyone together and the real focus would be on the person who needs the support etc… however, despite people’s initial messages, or support, people do return to type fairly quickly. So if a family member or friend is quite selfish, then they will typically float back to behaving like that again.

I have told a few people in my inner circle and I could have predicted exactly how all of them react … those that immediately become that ‘light’ for you and would come round to walk the dog whilst you went in for the dreaded results appointment and those that might say ‘let me know if you need anything’ then don’t ever message again (this annoys me more than ghosting - I’m never going to ask for help, just drop a bloody lasagne round :confused:)

Yes, your sister probably has lots of issues and no doubt she has reasons for being the way she is with you but that doesn’t mean it’s ok. I guess when you have more headspace then it’s time for you to decide how you move forward with your relationship with her. There’s nothing wrong with having a relationship with someone and knowing they won’t be there during the tough times. My parents and my brother are absolutely useless and they won’t be part of this ‘journey’ of mine but that doesn’t mean I won’t see them again…

You need to decide what’s ok for you … maybe not now but in the future. I personally think that friends are going to change after this … I don’t think I can really forgive those long standing friends who have just said ‘oh no, I’m so sad for you’ then nothing! But of course… I may change my mind about that in the future but I know it will be about what’s best for me now - families and friends need to add something to your life not just toxicity.

Keep us updated… x


I just want you to know you are not alone. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and have been under going chemotherapy. While my relationship has always been rough with my sister- you would think she would at least ask how I am. I got a text with a picture of a shirt saying “check your titties, mine are trying to kill me”
While she may think this is funny- I don’t. And one call asking about my treatment. It’s very disappointing- you would think family would be there for you. Reality for me has been friends and coworkers have been there more for me than anyone.
I guess just because they are relatives doesn’t really matter.
Take the support from other people and don’t worry about the people who aren’t there for you.
Take care