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Redditor With Terminal Cancer Asks If They’re Wrong To Hide Diagnosis From Wife And Daughter

Kittiphan Teerawattanakul / EyeEm via Getty Images

When you have a terminal illness—when you’ve been told to prepare for the unpreparable, and you will leave family and loved ones behind, how do you have the conversation with them?

How do you tell your loved ones to get ready for a life without you?

Redditor TheoryOfUgh was in this situation after receiving a terminal brain cancer diagnosis.  Conflicted about whether or not to spare his wife and daughter from this horrible news, he went to the popular subReddit “Am I The A**hole?” or “AITA” for perspective.

He asked:

“AITA for not telling my wife and daughter that I’m dying?”

Our original poster, or OP, told us about what went into his fateful diagnosis.

“Hi Reddit.”

“I’ll try and keep this brief, last August I found out I have brain cancer, I won’t survive. I’m not taking any treatment as I don’t want to draw it out so it’s going to be a brief ordeal.”

He’s been keeping it to himself in order to not interfere with his wife and daughter’s lives.

“My wife and daughter have no idea, I’ve done a good job at trying to act like everything is normal and for the most part it has been.”

“My daughter is on track to get into a top tier university this September and my wife and I recently had a great anniversary at home, we went all out and heated up some ready meals and watched Netflix.”

“My reasoning for deceiving them is this: they don’t need to know and knowing right now will make things difficult, there isn’t a person alive who can stop this from happening so me telling them beforehand just causes them unnecessary pain.”

“My wife is really busy with work and my daughter is working really hard in school, I don’t think it’s right to distract them from that.”

But his perceived selflessness may have worse consequences.

“Here’s where I think I may be TA. I’m actively lying to the two women I love the most every day by not telling them about this, they are living a normal happy life and have no idea that I won’t be there by Christmas, I may not make it to see my daughter move out.”

“This is going to be a massive shock to them both and I’m concerned for how they will take this.”

“Unsure what else to say as that’s basically everything. AITA here?”

Anonymous strangers weighed in by declaring:

  • NTA – Not The A**hole
  • YTA – You’re The A**hole
  • ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
  • NAH – No A**holes Here

Despite the difficult situation, Reddit thinks OP is very, VERY wrong here.

“YTA in the nicest way possible. You think you’re helping them or trying to protect them but you’re just going to make it worse for them.”

“Lying about it isn’t going to stop you from dying either. You need to tell them so they can start to process and prepare for the inevitable.”

“It may be harder for you but it will make things better for them in the long run.”~friendlynea

“For the love of God OP please tell your family. I know you mean so well and bless your bravery, but you said it yourself that you feel terrible for lying to these two women who clearly adore you and who you mean the world to.”

“I’ve heard and seen stories like these so many times in my life and every time it ends up horribly for everybody involved and nobody gets closure.”

“They’re your family. These are the people you go to when you want to celebrate life and all your succeses and the people you go to when you’re at your lowest points in your life and are scared and possibly in denial of what is going to come.”

“Please don’t deny them (and yourself) of the power of love even in the face of illness.”

“YTA, but the most gentle YTA I can say because I know you mean so well. Please let them know and know that they will 100% have your back and love you. I promise you they will.”~imsohungrydude

“My mother had cancer in 2003. I found out on the ride back to college from Thanksgiving break my freshman year and my dad told me, alone, after my brother had been dropped off at the Amtrak to return to HIS college.”

“Mom wasn’t in the car and Dad couldn’t even say the words cancer or chemotherapy (I had to ask and clarify).”

“I quickly found out they chose not to tell my brother because his new girlfriend (now wife) had visited over Thanksgiving. Mom started chemo the next day.”

“Because I am not a complete a**hole, I called my brother (we were not even close at the time) myself and I had to f**king tell him. And then broke down.”

“Because I had been given awful news and then just SEE YOU AT CHRISTMAS inside like 15-30 minutes.”

“But the worst part? Mom had been diagnosed in SEPTEMBER. There had just been disagreement from Sept to November about which exact type of cancer she had; one of the options would have killed her inside of six months.”

“She spent three of those months not even telling us she was sick. Frankly, I’m still angry. I hate secret-keeping and my family is intensely dysfunctional about communication and boundaries on a good day.”

“I can only imagine how I would have felt if suddenly she had died and I had never even known she was sick.”

“Please, please tell them. They need time to process. And frankly, it’s going to make their grief so much more complicated when they’re struggling to be angry at the fact that they didn’t know, and they have the right to be upset that you didn’t tell them.”~birdsofpaper

“YTA. To add some practical aspects to the emotional aspects of your family’s need to prepare:”

“If something happens (e.g., you collapse, have a seizure, start having symptoms that affect your behavior) and you have not told them about your diagnosis, they will be terrified and unprepared.”

“In addition, your wife, who has both a legal responsibility and a familial obligation to care for you, will be utterly uninformed of both your condition and your desires about treatment.”

“If you are incapacitated, she may choose to treat aggressively, as you have not told her what you want.”

“I suggest you buy a copy of the form ‘Five Wishes’ (https://fivewishes.org/) and fill it out, and then share it with your wife.”

“It will help facilitate the difficult conversations you need to have, and if you are in the US, help set up a binding health care proxy.”

“Also, be sure your will is in order, and do it soon when the soundness of your mind cannot be questioned after the fact.”

“If you don’t make a will, your estate will be distributed according to your state’s estate law, which may not lead to the outcome you want, and will probably cost more than having a proper will.”

“As you are likely to be incapacitated for a while before you die, you also need to set up very clear legal and financial proxies.”

“And all your planning needs to take into account your wife might get hit by a bus while you are incapacitated, so you also need to have firm legal arrangements for your daughter’s care should neither of you be available for her.”

“Not talking to and planning with your wife endangers the whole family.”

“You know what is happening. You need to be sure everything is in order to make it as easy for your family as you can.”

“Right now you’re deliberately choosing to make ‘after’ as difficult for them as possible, so that you, selfishly, can avoid the difficult but necessary things you should be doing ‘before.'”~Jazzlike_Humor3340

The family one leaves behind after death need time to grieve and process, which OP is currently denying them.

“Exactly a soft YTA they deserve to know what is happening and prepare for it mentally and emotionally.”

“If you do not tell them they will struggle even more to cope with your death afterwards.”

“You should tell them and try to make as memories as possible with them otherwise the women you love may blame themselves for not spending more time with you. Sorry about your diagnosis.”~Disneyfan6428

“My dad died when I was 30 and we knew for a few months he was dying and I got to have many lovely conversations with him as we all processed it, which we never would have had if no one had any idea it was happening.”

“A very gentle YTA, I really treasure every one of those moments and if I hadn’t known and he had died, I would have had a much larger hole in my heart.”

“One of the worst things about a sudden death is regretting not being able to say certain things or resolve certain issues and regretting chances to connect one last time.”~Ok_Tart_3185

“YTA. Their job and studying are going well so what? You know what will still be there after you die? Them with their jobs and study. You know what won’t be there? YOU!”

“Let them knowingly enjoy the time they have left with you. You need to speak to them. Just because you’ve been told you don’t have long left doesn’t mean that’s the case.”

“My friend with brain cancer was told he only had one year to live. He died three years later.”

“Lying won’t stop you from dying. But love from your family and friends might just help you hang in there a bit longer.”~GabberCat

“As someone who has studied death and dying, a gentle YTA.”

“So many factors affect how someone grieves, and that includes how sudden (or perceived to be sudden) the loss was, how traumatic, how close of a relationship, etc.”

“By keeping this from them until the literal end, you are taking from them a very real opportunity to begin that process, to come to any place of acceptance, and being able to mourn without the complication of ambivalent feelings over what may feel like a betrayal.”

“There are many things you can all do together which can aide you in achieving what is deemed a ‘good death,’ and them in navigating everything that comes with such a loss.”

“Consult with your physicians about palliative care to help facilitate management for all aspects of your illness’ progression—including mental health care, for instance, which may help you all process everything, or help you figure out how to break the news.”

“Palliative care teams are interdisciplinary, meaning many different specialists (not just medical) work together to support your quality of life during such a time.”

“That support is invaluable and extends to immediate family.”

“In the short term, I can completely understand your thought process. In the long term however, I truly think you are dangerously underestimating the impact this will have on their lives and wellbeing.”

“I’m so sorry you are even in such a place to have to consider this, and I wish you all peace and healing in such a difficult situation.”~LoveisaNewfie

And if he continues to deny them then his passing will hit them all the worse.

“I’m so very sorry this is happening to you but YTA.”

“My father died 8 years ago from cancer. It was so fast I had 4 days between finding out about it and him dying while I held his hand.”

“The thing I wish for most is that I’d known how little time I had left with him so I could’ve treasured the moments I had while I had them.”

“I would’ve made different choices about how I spent my time. I would’ve asked him SO MANY questions that I thought I had years to ask.”

“I would’ve taken more photos, more videos, I would’ve recorded his voice. There are people on here saying ‘at least tell your wife’ but I beg of you, tell your daughter too.”

“Do not rob her of the opportunity to ask you things and spend time with you. She can take an extra year of high school; that will matter so much less in the long run.”~mert87

“Personally I believe YTA: you’re denying your daughter and Wife of closure of spending the last few months with you and making memories. They are going to be hurt and pissed about that.”

“I understand why you’re doing this. But please while you’re in good health tell them so they have that chance to make the memories, spend the time with you they deserve, also to start therapy, and support each other.”

“Your daughter is going to be affected by this no matter what, its best she lets it run its course now and she just explains during her interviews with the colleges what is going on.”~Spartan186

“YTA gently. The only person you are saving from pain is yourself.”

“I was able to come to terms with my mother’s inoperable brain tumors more gently because I was told the moment she was diagnosed.”

“I had the opportunity to speak with her and tell her I loved her before she passed and came to terms to it.”

“When she passed, it felt more like she wasn’t suffering anymore. Sure it hurt, but there was a sense of calm that the struggle was over.”

“I have no clue what I would have done if it was kept from me until the day she died.”

“I would have felt betrayal because I wasn’t trusted to know, sorrow that I couldn’t help give support, confusion dealing with death so suddenly, and resentment that I was denied the opportunity to say goodbye.”

“It will be so much more painful for them if you do not tell. You are saving your own feelings not wanting to hurt them only to cause them much greater pain when you are gone. Please let them know.”~Jendi2016

“YTA. I think you already know this. Here’s why I say so. If I were in your wife or your daughter’s shoes, I’d want to know.”

“Hell, you’d want to know. I’m sorry that this has happened to you, and it’s extremely unfair to you.”

“You’re within your right to be selfish and spend your last few days in happiness and see your family smile along with you, but it would be way too hard on them for years after you’re gone.”

“They’d wonder why you lied, they’d wish you told them the truth, they’d wish they could tell you how much they loved you, they’d regret fighting with you or being mad at you, they’d have tons of things left unsaid…”

“Think about your daughter who’d go to the university with grief, you’re happy for her now that she is doing well but do you really want to ruin her university over your death?”

“Sudden deaths are the most painful. If they know you’re sick, they’d be in pain for about a few days and it would be hard for you to see, but they’d reach acceptance and all of you will cherish your remaining time together.”

“You’ll finish your checklist and have the best possible time you’ve left. They’ll tell you how much they love you as you go and you’d to the same.”

“You’ll be at peace knowing that. And when you go, they’ll be in grief but they’d be prepared for the moment, so it would be less hard on them.”

“So please tell them. I can understand where you’re coming from, but nevertheless, don’t be selfish and let them cherish the time they’ve left with you.”~a_wishful_firefly

This is an awful situation for OP to be in. We wish him the best as he moves forward with his plan to finally bring his daughter and wife in on this difficult information.

Mike Walsh

Written by Mike Walsh

Mike is a writer, dancer, actor, and singer who recently graduated with his MFA from Columbia University. Mike's daily ambitions are to meet new dogs and make new puns on a daily basis. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @mikerowavables.