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advice for my mom (afraid of the doctor)

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Old 03-04-2007, 06:05 PM   #1
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advice for my mom (afraid of the doctor)

Hi everyone- I was hoping I could get some general advice about this issue in my family. My mother (who is 60) is afraid of the doctor and has not been to one in years. I am her oldest child (30) and it really bothers me that she doesn't go. There have been health problems with both her parents and I guess she is a member of the "I'd rather not know if there is a problem" group. My dad told me it's been over 25 years since she has been to a gynocologist and for a yearly exam/physical. She honestly seems very healthy and takes good care of herself, so I am not worried about any current problems like that. But whenever I'd bring it up in the past, she'd get really angry and the last time I approached the subject she told me to never talk to her about it again. That was years ago, and I have not brought it up again. I guess my question is, should I just continue to leave her alone about it? It REALLY bothers me that she won't take any preventive measures with her health, but she is a grown woman and I suppose it's her choice. I also know from experience that when I do bring it up, it causes a rift in our relationship, and we have a great relationship now. I just feel in the back of my mind that if something ever happened to her, that could have been prevented if she did go to a doctor regularly, it would be at least partially my fault. I feel like I would be responsible in part because I was aware that she wasn't going to a doctor. And this makes me feel so guilty. So now it's become my problem as well, because I can't turn off the guilty feelings. I really want to just respect her decision about not wanting to go, even though I disagree, and just move on with my own life. Any thoughts? Thank you!

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Old 03-04-2007, 09:24 PM   #2
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Re: advice for my mom (afraid of the doctor)

Libbie, I have a daughter your age. If she were to try and push me into doing something I didn't want to do, I would resent it myself. Parents will always be the parents, and their children will always be younger and have less life experience than their parents. That's just the way life is, and until you have a grown child of your own, you may never understand this relationship.

I sense that your mother isn't being obstinate without good reason; it sounds as if she has a phobia about doctors, or that she doesn't trust them very much. I fully understand this. I can't allow myself to trust them completely, either. The difference between me and your mom is that I know I'm at the age when big things will start to go wrong with my body that I won't be able to self-treat, so I've set my mind to start giving doctors the benefit of the doubt. That doesn't mean I won't search the internet attempting to verify what they tell me is true, but it's a start.

I doubt very much you will ever change her mind, but that does NOT mean you should feel guilty about it - not ever. Neither now, nor when something inevitably goes wrong in the future. This is all about your mom and her fear and mistrust. It would be to her advantage to talk that out with a mental health professional, because she eventually will need medical care; but if that idea is unthinkable to her and she never gets over it ... It's still all about her, not you.

Your dad might be able to make a difference, though, depending on how solid their marriage is. Sometimes all it takes is a husband's declaration of love and his profession of fear of living without her to spur a wife into action. But that's still no guarantee it'll work, but you might privately ask him to try, if he hasn't already.
Good luck to you all.

Old 03-04-2007, 10:36 PM   #3
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Re: advice for my mom (afraid of the doctor)

Would it help if you talked to her and used "I" statements? Like express how you feel worried and how you would feel responsible if anything was wrong and how you want her to take care of herself because you want her in your life as long as possible? I remember in health class that's how they told us to talk to stage an intervention if we were worried about a friend's drug or alcohol use! It's obviously a completely different situation, but the point is still that you want her to change her behavior because you think it may be unhealthy. Would it help if you wrote her a letter instead of talking to her directly? Could your father help? Or any siblings or aunts/uncles?

Old 03-05-2007, 07:39 AM   #4
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Re: advice for my mom (afraid of the doctor)

thanks for the advice. Unfortunately I have used the "I" statements and it still made her really upset. I think she is very defensive about it because she knows it's probably not the best decision. She makes sure my dad goes to the doctor but she doesn't ever go herself. I just feel really guilty about dropping the issue because I will continue to be aware of the situation, and not do anything about it. I feel negligible in some way, like I don't care enough to keep trying. But the honest truth is I'm tired of trying and I want to respect her decision, even though I don't agree with it. My younger brothers don't know and I don't want to worry them, and my dad, to my knowledge, doesn't try to make her go. I've talked to him about it, but my mom is really the "boss" of the family, so to speak. So I feel like it has fallen on me to "change" her, and it's a big burden on me. I just don't want to feel horrible if something in the future happens with her that could've been prevented, if she was seeing a doctor regularly. I know I will feel guilty. I guess I'll somehow have to work on that.

Old 03-05-2007, 08:15 AM   #5
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Re: advice for my mom (afraid of the doctor)

Do you know the Serenity Prayer?
"... grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference."

This is one of those things you can't change. If you don't accept the idea that you cannot force your will onto someone - even someone you love - you'll be disappointed and frustrated the rest of your days. Nagging your mother just to assuage your own misplaced sense of guilt will harm your relationship in the here and now.

Ask yourself if feeling less guilty after she's gone is worth more than having a loving and accepting relationship while she's here with you.

Old 03-05-2007, 09:43 AM   #6
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Re: advice for my mom (afraid of the doctor)

I'm not writing this to scare you, but to share my own experience with a similar issue that resulted in a family members death due to failure to take their health seriously.

Your mom is like my grandmother. She was in her early seventies when she got sick and although she did have a doctor, she only saw her once in a blue moon and otherwise felt that doctors weren't all that necessary (she was into a lot of natural remedy stuff and had the idea that a doctors' best interest is not you, but your money). Her doctor is also a flake and in my opinion, utterly incompetent. Her first mistake was giving my grandmother a diagnoses of Diabetes and then prescribing her all sorts of medicine to help. The problem is that she gave my grandmother someone else's diagnoses and didn't catch the mistake until some time later! I guess the apology was sincere enough.

Around early December of 2005 she got sick and the problems had been going on for the greater half of the year, but she simply ignored them or shrugged them off as "nothing", "something I ate didn't agree with me", or "old age". Despite her overall good health (she was in excellent health for her age and had quit smoking and drinking when she was younger; she didn't look a day over 60), my mom knew something was wrong with her mother (call it a gut feeling). She was sure that all of the symptoms added up to a whole (cancer was her fear) and begged her mother to see her doctor, but was always met head-on with a defensive stance and/or a "why don't YOU see a doctor" retaliation. After a month of constant begging -sometimes to the point of tears- my grandmother finally did see her doctor and was given a diagnoses of Diabetes (this was her second one and it was accurate, but was only a small part of the problem). Afterwards, the doctor told my grandmother not to worry and that it was easily manageable, but my mother knew something was not right and kept on pressuring her mom to see a different doctor, but my grandmother would act like it didn't matter (it was basically "my doctor says nothing is wrong, so why should I listen to you?"). My mom was furious that my grandmother's doctor did not even order any scans nor did she really seem to take the complaints too seriously.

One day my grandmother gave in (I think to get my mom off her back). I overheard part of a conversation between her and my mom and it ended with my grandmother questioning that if she did have cancer, would it be getting worse due to her inaction (she was doubtful because no one in our family has had cancer). My mom said yes and on that very day she made her mother an appointment with her own doctor. Unfortunately my grandmother did have cancer and because she waited so long there was not much that could be done except to give her kemo to see if that could possibly prolong her life by a few months along with pain medicine (40mg Oxycontin) to make her more comfortable (she was in agonizing abdominal pain). It was estimated that w/out kemo she might only live for 1-2 months. Even with kemo, she only lasted 4 and died in April of 2006, a few days shy of my sisters birthday. My grandfather is really depressed now. He hasn't acted the same for the past year and he refuses to do a lot of things because it reminds him of her (all of their happiest moments are now sad and unbearable to remember).

Originally Posted by libbie6
I just feel in the back of my mind that if something ever happened to her, that could have been prevented if she did go to a doctor regularly...
The sad part is that when she noticed something was really wrong it was already too late. What's even more irritating is that if she had been getting routine check ups, the doctor is pretty sure that something would have been caught in the earlier stages and then early and aggressive treatment would definitely have helped. Unfortunately she had gallbladder cancer, which is rarely caught by itself until it has advanced and spread. When they found it, it was also in her liver, spleen, intestines, stomach, and lymph nodes, and was beginning to spread to her bones. It also turns out that the symptoms she had been getting were pretty much as described for gallbladder cancer. There's no guarantee that early detection would have saved her life, but because she waited and didn't bother to see a doctor when it started, we'll never know what could have happened.

This has made my mom really serious about yearly checkups and taking even the smallest of problems very seriously. I already see a lot of doctors and get a lot of checkups because I was born with a bone disease and often have problems with something. Maybe it's good that I often overact on some of the simplest things!

Although if she doesn't want to see a doctor, it is her call. It's strange to see someone not being as concerned about them self as you may be about them (or as you would be for yourself). When my grandmother refused to see a doctor, despite there being a problem, I could not understand why. It's almost inconceivable that someone would not bother with something so simple for any reason. I'll have to ask my mom how she felt about her mothers stance or if she feels any guilt for prodding. My father was the same way. He hated seeing doctors and one time he when messed up his knee, he decided to "fix" it himself with a steroid shot that put him in the hospital for a week with his knee cut open to let the fluid drain out (I don't know why he hated them, especially since he was one himself!).

Last edited by Fibbles; 03-05-2007 at 09:54 AM. Reason: spelling

Old 03-05-2007, 05:35 PM   #7
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Re: advice for my mom (afraid of the doctor)

thanks again for the advice Midwest, and also to Fibbles for sharing the story. Your story is exactly what I'm afraid may happen in the future, but I think what Midwest said is true as well. I feel pretty stuck, I mean, what can I do? I can't physically force my mom into a car and drive to a doctor. I do want to have a good relationship with my mom, and by my bringing this up, it's making her angry and hurting our relationship. I think she views her health as a very personal and private thing, and doesn't want us kids involved with it. I really don't think I can change her mind, as much as I want to. I've decided continue to lay off nagging her to go for yearly check ups and such, but I will definitely say something if I think she is looking really unwell, is complaining of symptoms, etc. I don't think it's a bad thing to suggest that she go to a doctor if it were that type of situation, and I want her to know that I care. But in the end I will have to respect it's her decision. It's just hard because we're on opposite ends of the spectrum with this issue. I go to the doctor regularly and would want to know as soon as possible if something were wrong.

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