My mother is exagerating her illness!

I don’t know what to think! My 75 year-old mother was diagnosed with different cancers in each breast. Ever since she has been exagerating - even downright lying - to get attention - I don’t know why because the truth should bring enough sympathy!
She tells my sister and I terrible lies - i.e. that it is much more serious than it is.
Examples … she had lumpectomies plus lymph exploration last Thursday (2 each breast). Today she is telling me that she will need a double mastectomy but will refuse - her consultant told my sister that she will not need further treatment except for radiation. She has told me that her operation took over 7 hours and that she had her arms over her head for over three hours. She says that they don’t know where ‘the primary’ (her words) is but she backtracked on that one after further questionning and said I had misunderstood. She is laying it on so thick - shuffling around, breathing heavily, wincing constantly etc - I can just feel my sympathy waning and then I feel bad.
She has always been a difficult and manipulative woman but this takes the biscuit!
Do you have any advice?

Perhaps your mother is just frightened and thinks that no body will care if she recovers too soon. My own mother does not even speak to my sister or myself. I did not even let her know that I have breast cancer, she just would not care. At this time (I just had my surgery on Wednesday) it would be wonderful to have my mum there for me, but I just have to accept it. I do hope that you can sort things out with her, it will be worth while in the long run.
Love from

My mother is 69, in pretty much perfect health and I have to listen to every tiny twist and turn of her health from colds, to sinus infections to mystery pains, I don’t really begrudge it because they are difficult for her. I would say try not to think this way a double lumpectomy plus lymph nodes is a lengthy operation and she will be be in pain. I was in hospital for five days afterwards and i can tell you i was seriously uncomfortable and shuffling around afterwards and i have NEVER complained to anyone about anything to do with illness

How do you know what her consultant said to her when they were discussing her case ? Her consultant may have only told your sister the end result of the discussion. A double mastectomy is a perfectlly common option for bilateral cancer,

I don’t mean this to sound harsh at all; - I am well aware some people do go on and on, but my advice would be cut her some slack and don’t challenger her, she really has a major problem here and if from time to time she exaggerates - well just let it go.


I’ve had a bilateral mastectomy and from what I’ve heard lumpectomies can be more painful and as for lymph exploration, well I had jsut a few lymph nodes removed from both sides (I also had cancer in both breasts, it’s not that common to have multiple primaries at the same time by the way) and I can only describe it as feeling like you’ve been punched in the armpit really really hard, it takes weeks to calm down.

I’m only 33 and have recovered quickly, it’s much harder as you get older and the amount of information you have to take on while you’re in shock from diagnosis confuses the best of people.

For the record when I was diagnosed with multiple primaries they did suggest that bilateral mastectomy would be a good idea in order to not have to go through it all again so it’s quite possible that she doesn’t *need* more treatment but they may have suggested mastectomy as an option.

Thanks for your input. I have had a lumpectomy a year and a half ago - never told my mum because we have a difficult relationship. I probably haven’t explained this very well - you’ll have to take my word for it about the exagerating / lying. She was sent home the day after her operation by the way and she lives on her own. She also told me today that she was on oxygen all night and the next day after the operation etc. etc. My sister happened to speak to the nurses who told her differently. At every turn she adds detail to get further attention.
My sister is a specialist in palliative care - she was with my mum for her diagnosis and whem she saw the consultant after the operation and then my mum told me different, worse information because she thought I wouldn’t know the difference - she doesn’t know that I researched this area when I had my own ‘brush’ with it.
My mum has always used her health as a weapon in her relationship with her children - e.g. taking a near overdose and making sure she was found when she thought I was an innattentative daughter.
I suppose I just wanted someone to let off steam too - this probably isn’t the right place?
I do feel sorry for her having BC but she is so addicted to attention seeking that she is going to drive me further away.

Firstly I am not 75, I do work in theatres. your mother would have been in theatre about 2/3hours and for about 2 hours of that would have been with her arm above her head, to enable the surgeon to get to the lymph nodes, she would have been prescribed oxygen for 24 hours after her op as normal procedure. I have had wle, hysterectomy and ovary removal, bilateral carpel tunnel, and breast reduction but, the most painfull thing I have ever endured was having my lymph nodes removed, that was in 2001, there is still discomfort when stretching. the arm does not feel like its mine anymore. It reduced me to tears for about 3 weeks, was unable to drive for 4 weeks, I don’t think I was putting it on, and got very depressed because of not being able to do anything without pain.

How serious would you consider breast cancer if it was you.

Has she had her results, because if there are no clear margins then she possibly could have to have a double mastectomy. Maybe she has confused everything but what she says in general sounds possible.

I’m glad I was surrounded by support and patience,by my friends, sadly not my family.

Is your mother alone, because if so I really feel for her.


OK - I think I have made a mistake so thank-you for replying but I guess I wanted reassurance and really I don’t need it because, thinking further, I know what is what.
I suppose my real dilemma is about supporting a lady who has not been a terrific mother. I will - no she is not alone - but that is more because I don’t want anyone to go through this alone rather than our having the relationship that I wish we did.
I know people are unwilling to accept it when I say what my mother is doing - sadly it is the case.
BC happens to anyone - why should my mother be different now that she has breast cancer?
Good luck to all of you.

Hi Jane

Sounds as if you are all having a difficult time; there is nothing like a serious illness to make a problematic relationship even more so - it brings so many feelings to the fore. I can understand both your mother’s fear and your own exasperation - as you say, after your own experience of breast cancer you know it is serious enough for her to get all the attention she needs without having to exaggerate. It may be that she actually doesn’t understand what is happening and is getting things wrong due to confusion and anxiety? I really think the best thing is to try to ignore anything that you feel is not true, but give her whatever attention you can for what is, after all, a life-threatening illness.

Thinking of you

I think you are right that this is really about supporting your mother when she hasn’t been a great mother to you - and thats what has caught peoples eye as many women have problematic relationships with their own mothers,i certainly do (i hope she isnt reading this!) for slightly different reasons. I Wish you the best with that in what will be difficult circumstances for her and will put greater stress on you.



make sure you look after yourself through this… I don’t know how to put this but honestly and if she has to do chemotherapy (I’m not sure that’s that likely at her age) but that will test your relationship to the limit.

I’ve just finished chemo and there were times when I honestly thought who they hell is in me because it’s not me, the steroid made me a monster some days. So if you have a strained relationship now you really will need your own space.

Yes Jane, Vertangie is right, you do need to take care of yourself through all this. Don’t feel bad about yourself, you are obviously trying to do what you can. It must be so difficult supporting someone who has not been able to be a support for you.

All the best


just sending you a hug. The only advice I would offer is to be supportive when you visit or ring. Then try not to keep going over everything after you leave her, or you will be so stressed out. A tough time ahead for all. If you can separate your life it might help. I hope so. Good luck.

Lily x


I too have always had a difficult relationship with my mother. She is a similar age to yours and worries about health issues and I am sure she has manipulated GPs to give her tests just to assure her she isn’t suffering from any serious illnesses. Frankly mine is as stong as an ox but she doesn’t understand how people get certain illnesses such as cancer. When someone else has a serious illness it isn’t long before she somehow gets herself checked out. I have also had a lumpectomy for bc and keeping it from her as I know she’d be off for a mammo if ever she found out.

In your position I would be kind enough to give my mother the benefit of the doubt and assume she is a little confused. I think you probably are in a much better position than others on here to know exactly what your mother is like so I think you are possibly right about her. However, she does have breast cancer and it is a serious disease and she is probably frightened and in need of love and support. I hope that your relationship will improve whilst you are trying to help her through this but, in any event, in the future if her prognosis turns out to be bad you will feel better for knowing that you supported her through it despite your differences and you will be proud that you did it.

Hi JaneRC

I also had a difficult mother with whom I had a very poor relationship. I ‘worked out’ stuff about our relationship through doing a lot of theraoy but never in her life time was able to reconciile myself to her. She died 11 years ago and through then getting to know her slightly younger sister (who has died this year) I understood more about things in her childhood which caused the damage I think she did to me.

I was not a dutiful daughter and saw her very little in her last years (perhaps once a year). I saw her a bit more when she became ill (dementia) and wept as she lay dying…wept for the mother I had never had…I loved her but I never liked her and I’m not sure she loved me (ie me…rather than an idealised version of a different kind of daughher.)

Counselling/therpay really helped me…maybe it would you.

Your mother may or may not be exagerrating…what this is really all about is your relationship with her…and relationships with our mothers can be complicated.

best wishes


Hi janeRC,
don’t ever feel bad about exploring your worries on here, as you have seen there are lots of different perspecives and opinions on here. But I think we are all here to help each other!
No-one but you knows the reality of the situation, but the past and all that has gone on there makes the present a bit blurred sometimes.
I coped with a bad parent by eventually giving up on them and we mutually decided it was Ok not to see each other after I was 20 or so. Very sad, but sometimes wonder why we try so hard to like some people, especially relatives, we cannot all get along with all people.
Maybe some therapy would help you work things out, maybe not.
Maybe if you challenged her on every lie, she would eventually realise it is not worth it?
Maybe you should tell her of your own BC experiences, and maybe reasure her that you will support her thro her own.
Oh I don’t know…isn’t life complicated!!! Best of luck love anyway…
Best bit of advice to you? Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t let others do it either!

Thank-you all for being kind enough to answer.
I’m afraid things are getting worse each day - my mother has now really upset my sister (who herself has been living with a life limiting disease for the past few years). My mother is sharp as a tack so confusion etc. is not the case.
My mother (my sister was there as she has been for all consultations) was told that lumpectomies and three weeks of radiation should give her such a good result that her life expectancy would be unchanged from before her diagnosis. I’m sad to say that she tells myself (and my brother) other things - including detailed medical information - and says that my sister has got it all wrong.
I will continue to ring her 2 or three times a week and see her every half term (I’m a teacher and I live an hour’s drive away). I am biting my tongue so that I will have the comfort of knowing that I am doing the right thing.
She IS causing trouble in lots of ways - she has always pulled stunts; it’s just that I thought that a ‘real’ situation would bring about an honest response. I would never have dreamed that she would enjoy the possibility to use this illness to try to get added attention. She is like a child in that she needs everything to be about her -‘bad’ attention is better than a lesser amount of ‘good’ attention.

As for therapy - the best therapy for me is knowing that history has not repeated itself and I have a wonderful relationship with my children including my gorgeous 19 year old daughter who has just gone away to university :frowning:
Signing off,

The good news - my mother has been told that everything is clear, one side was pre-cancer and the other stage 1 and contained. They are giving her a course of radiotherapy to be sure and then she is signed off (she remains as difficult as ever).

The bad news - unbelievably my sister has this week been diagnosed with breast cancer herself. She tells me that it is not a good one (sic) - I didn’t press for details.

A very sad post script to my story …

Love to you all,

So sorry that your sister now has bc,is this the same sister that already has a life limiting ilness.Life can be so cruel. No breast cancer is good but I really hope it is not as bad as you fear and that your sister responds well to treatment .Sending you and your sister love,luck and hope.



I had just found the thread you started as its title intrigued me. I completely recognise the syndrome. My father exaggerated his illness when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He wrote us dramatic emails about the severity of it and simply invented things that the consultant said. My mother, who was present at all the consultations and is highly medically literate, used to keep us updated with the real story.

The difference between us is that I am very fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with my Dad, who I adore, so while I felt puzzled by his need to exaggerate and anxious until I got my mother’s version, I was lucky to be able to find it exasperating and amusing.

There seem to be some strong similarities between your mother and my father. Similarly, he is manipulative and likes to be the centre of attention. I’ve never been sure whether it’s because he has low self-esteem or was very indulged as a child. He is extraordinarily thin-skinned and has always been very frightened of his own mortality. To me it’s inexplicable why he felt the need to exaggerate. My mother called him on it on one of the occasions, pointing out how frightening it was for his children to hear this bad news, not least when much of it wasn’t the case. Apparently he looked very sheepish.

So all I wanted to do is to say to you that I recognise what you’re saying. Isn’t it extraordinary! Maybe it’s a lot better for us to have to deal with than, say, Munchausen’s Syndrome!! My Dad actually exaggerates about everything and is renowned as an unreliable source. I take a pinch of salt before believing him, but he can be a mischief-maker. He’s a lovely man who can sometimes be childlike and overly selfish, and I suspect your mother similarly craves the world dancing attendance on her.

Finally, I’m so sorry to read your post-script. I had just found your thread and registered so I could reply, and was very saddened to read about your sister. Breast cancer treatment has changed so much in the past 5 years and continues to improve, so I hope with all my heart that your sister will be treated successfully. I expect your mother will play up during this time so I wish you patience and fortitude. Very, very difficult and not your fault. My one piece of advice would be to make sure you make time for *you*. It’s not selfish but necessary, as you’ll only be able to be strong for your sister and mother if you are as well as possible. You’ll be in my thoughts.

With love, E x

Hi Jane,
life is just you know what sometimes! I am so very sorry to hear about your sister’s dx and I think that is where all my attention would be going now, if I was in your situation. There is actually no guarantee that the dx determines how it will go. In my area they had an over 70 with the best possible dx who went down really fast and a 27 year old who following herceptin is bouncing along and all clear. My BCN says you can’t focus on this too much, it does not follow a definite pattern. We will all hope that she responds well to her treatment. I do hope your Mum responds well too as I would anyone with cancer and that maybe she will improve in other ways too, for both your sakes.
One not so nice thing, is you now need to make your daughter very aware of what to check for, as well as yourself, if she does not already. That is the saddest bit of all our dxs, the next generation
Wishing you well in the coming months
Lily x