Mickelson's Challenge: When Cancer Strikes a Family Twice

Two months after pro golfer Phil Mickelson's wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer, his mother has been diagnosed with the same disease, Mickelson's sister, Tina Mickelson, revealed to the San Diego Union Tribune on Monday.

Tina Mickelson did not return ABCNews.com's messages seeking comment about her mother, Mary Michelson. T.R. Reinman, media representative for Phil Mickelson, said the Mickelson family has declined to comment "although the family is very appreciative for the support."

Reinman said Amy views herself as "just one of 200,000 people diagnosed in the same year," with no more important personal story to tell than anybody else.

VIDEO: All for Amy at the U.S. OpenPlay

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer is the second leading cause of death in Americans. So it should come as little surprise that few families have escaped the strain of a cancer battle. And it's not all that unusual for the disease to strike twice in family.

Retired anthropology professor Stephen C., who wished to keep his last name anonymous to protect his family's privacy, knows full well how tough it can be to deal with multiple cancers in the family.

"For a while it was a perfect storm in terms of energy demands, time demands if you will," he said.

Between 2001 and 2004 Stephen coped with his mother's cancer battle, his wife's cancer and even the cancer of a family pet.

"My mother was diagnosed in December of 2001. She was going through chemo and we brought her to live with us, we had some alterations made to the house so she could be upstairs," said Stephen.

"Then in August of 2002 my wife had a routine mammogram and was diagnosed. Then it was September 2002 when my cat started walking funny -- he had a tumor on his hip," he said.

With two grown children out of the house, Stephen was left alone to continue teaching and be the caretaker for his 82-year-old mother Bernice. His wife, Hasnah, continued to work through her cancer treatment and cook for the family while he would spend nights upstairs helping his mother.

At the time, Stephen made the decision to spare his mother from the news that her daughter-in-law was also battling cancer.

Family Dynamics When Two Have Cancer

"She was pretty resigned to the fact she had cancer, in fact she was pretty pessimistic," said Stephen. "My concern was that if I told my mother it might make it so much difficult in terms of keeping that pessimism from slipping over… it was kind of a schizophrenic situation with my mother upstairs and my wife and I living downstairs."

On top of the home dynamics, Stephen said that he felt he was struggling to keep up his normal productivity at work.

"I worried about my teaching quality, and I worried about my classroom conduct," he said.

Indeed, cancer educators and oncology-focused psychiatrists say families dealing with two cases of cancer at once might face additional career and school stressors.

"Unfortunately, it's not infrequent," said Dr. Michelle Riba, professor and director of the psych-oncology program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

"We've seen it in moms and young children, we've seen it in spouses, we've seen it -- depending on the cancers -- in moms and daughters," she said.

Even with a single cancer case, Riba recommends families go through counseling "screening" sessions to identify extra stressors, sources of support and sources of weak points in the family support system.

Riba said aide from social workers and hospital programs can often see families through, but a double case of cancer may cause special problems.

"Oftentimes people have to cut their hours and that is a big problem these days because people are really reluctant to cut hours, and even take vacation time, for fear of job loss or income loss," said Riba. "Sometimes we identify a patient who has cancer, and then another family has cancer and that person might be the one who carries the health insurance and can't quit work."

Riba has also seen cases where one family member alters their treatment to better take care of another, for example a woman with breast cancer might choose a mastectomy rather than save her breast and undergo prolonged chemotherapy in order to get back to caretaking.

Lillie Shockney, administrative director, Johns Hopkins Breast Center, who is also an author and patient advocate, recommends families facing duel cancer diagnoses reach out for professional help.

"It adds to that individual's stress and they're now on double duty," said Shockney. "I think that it's very important for that individual to inform the healthcare team they're working with that they are dealing with two cancer patients at the same time."

"I'm a full supporter of asking if there's a social worker and a nurse navigator to help, and to not feel bad about accessing those resources," she said.

After his experience, Stephen said he couldn't agree more that professional help is key.

"I can't say enough about hospice, those people they were just remarkable," he said. "They would sit with my mom and they'd give her a rudimentary check up but they were kind enough to make their visits coincide when I had to give lectures."

Stephen said his wife has survived cancer and remains in remission. Unfortunately the family cat, Uncle Cat, did not survive and had to be put to sleep. Stephen's mother lived for another three years after her diagnosis with spinal cancer.

"If you have a network of friends, whether they're colleagues at work or in your religious organization, don't be afraid to call upon them," he said. "That along with hospice, with professionals, that's going to get you through."