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Ask Amy: Cancer during a pandemic is overwhelming

Amy Dickinson
Tribune Content Agency

Dear Amy: My parents are not concerned about COVID. They believe the liberal media has blown it out of proportion and they refuse to take precautions.

My family and I, however, do. I decided to stop our limited outdoor visits when I learned they were attending a church that also did not follow precautionary measures.

When I refused to take my kids (ages 6 and 9) to a birthday party at their house, both my parents and my adult siblings did not talk to me for a month.

Mom broke the silence to disclose that she was recently diagnosed with cancer. She is not the dramatic type and would not fabricate this diagnosis.

She has always said she would never undergo chemo or radiation. And she is sticking to that decision.

How can I handle this?

I don’t know where to begin explaining to my kids that grandma is sick and will most likely die in the next year, AND that we can’t go to her.

How do I say goodbye to my mother, and live with myself, while socially distancing? How do I navigate a funeral with a large extended family (Mom has nine siblings, with 40 adult married cousins and their children) most of whom probably don’t follow COVID precautions, either.

I am absolutely gutted. I can’t fathom how so many people have no regard for others around them. — Cancer & COVID

Dear C & C: I’m so sorry you are going through this. At times of high stress (and most other times, too), it helps to break things down into manageable portions. You need to try your hardest — every single day — not to get ahead of yourself.

I hope you can communicate frankly with your mother regarding her illness. Has she gotten a second (or third) opinion? Is her cancer treatable? I think it’s relatively common to have an all-or-nothing reaction to a cancer diagnosis, until a person fully understands the illness and their various treatment options.

Would she be willing to participate on a group call with you and your siblings, so that you will all have the same information from her?

Please, don’t plan your mother’s funeral. She is still here, and you should abide with her through the different stages of her emotions, even if you are not able to be physically close to her.

If your stress is off the charts and obvious to your children, you can say to them that you miss seeing your mom and that sometimes you worry about her. Children can be deeply empathetic and compassionate when they see a parent in pain. If they can help you, it will help them, but don’t talk to them about your mother’s prognosis until you know more.

Dear Amy: My mother mentioned to me that my brother is shopping for an engagement ring for his girlfriend of many years.

I don’t particularly like her. I don’t like how she treats him and how he treats her.

I think he deserves someone who makes him happy. I know it’s not my decision to make. Maybe they are happy, but my family stresses them out so they are unpleasant to each other whenever they are around us.

With the holidays coming up, I imagine he will find a time to tell me that he’s proposing.

How am I supposed to react? I don’t want to alienate him by saying, “I think you deserve better, but it’s your choice,” but I would be lying if I pretended to be excited.

We aren’t very close. Thoughts? — Meh

Dear Meh: One way to cover yourself is to restate some benign facts and ask some benign questions.

Benign fact: “Wow, you two have been together for a long time, now.”

Benign questions: “How did you decide to get engaged? How are you going to pop the question? What are your plans for a wedding?”

Benign reaction: “This is exciting news for you two. Congratulations.”

Dear Amy: “Perplexed” wondered why she had such a crush on a guy at the gym.

Any activity that gives you an endorphin “high” can fan unusual crushes.

I was infatuated with my flight instructor, scratching my head as to why. Aha! Endorphins!

After I realized that, I was able to just enjoy flying without the sexual baggage.

My husband left me to chase his female exercise partner.

He still hasn’t figured it out, and he hasn’t caught her yet. — Patty, in NJ

Dear Patty: I called it “The Ryan Gosling Effect.” Your response is better.