Mickelson's Challenge: When Cancer Strikes a Family Twice

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."

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