It has occurred to me that society has a way of cloaking the difficult aspects of life, death and some things in between. I assumed that because I was OK to talk about Mom’s cancer, everyone else would be OK about it too. At first I was hurt that friends changed the subject. Then I began to realise that I was talking to the wrong people. There are some people who are more open about these things. Some people will never feel comfortable talking about dying matters.

But I was especially surprised at the attitude of some of the doctors, mainly junior doctors, when Mom was receiving palliative care in hospital. It seemed to me that Mom became invisible. She was dying, there was nothing they could do for her, other than making sure she could breathe easily. It made our decision so much easier, to take her home to die. One of the doctors was quite upset about this. One of the doctors was frankly quite rude to us. Both of them were caring and skilled individuals, but relatively unaccustomed to dealing with death in this way.

It struck me that people with terminal illnesses become invisible, to protect the rest of us from their pain. In the same way that our society deals with older people; out of sight, out of mind. It’s cruel.

Getting older is by definition a terminal illness, without the defined time frame. It is associated with a general, slow degeneration of the physical body, even in the elderly well person. This presents the medical profession with somewhat of a dilemma – how to treat all the aches, pains and ailments? I often hear friends bemoaning their elderly parents grumpiness, complaining and selfish behaviour. I do it myself. And then I try to remember that Dad is getting on a bit, that things don’t work quite as well as they used to. Perhaps he does have general aches and pains which interfere with his quality of life and affect his sleep.

So, whilst the terminally ill are still living with their illness, so are lots of older people living with ageing. Let’s not pretend they are invisible.

Living with Mom’s cancer




I am a scientist and a blogger. I have a PhD in the genetics of cardiovascular risk. My Mom died of cancer last year. We learnt a lot and met some amazing people. I want to share with others how to live positively with cancer, and make choices in end-of-life care. My top tip: Ask the difficult questions.