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Senior Health Issues: Serious Illness and Distant Family

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December 7, 2010

You've just returned from the doctor's office where you were diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer. Your three adult children live elsewhere. How do you start this discussion without sending your children into a panic?

As with many such situations, you should first make sure that you understand what the situation is. Get all the information you need from your doctor about the likely outcome of your situation. You may have to set up a follow-up visit and take a series of questions written down. Also take written notes at the appointment. When you're comfortable you know what's happening, figure out if there's anything you want or need from your kids at this time: Does one of them have expertise that they could offer, money or contacts that you could benefit from? Do you need someone to take care of you or some of your personal affairs for a period of time? Or are you just calling to let them know the information? Write down what you want to get out of the conversation.

OK, time to call the kids. Have the information you've gathered in front of you and be ready to tell them details. You should break the news gently. "Cancer" is a word that scares a lot of people, so if there's another way to frame the situation, then great (e.g., "something unusual is going on with my prostate"). At the same time, don't trivialize the situation, particularly if the doctor has said it's serious and you are going to be going through some difficult treatments. If the child seems to be in denial about the seriousness of the situation, don't be surprised. It may take a couple of conversations and you giving them more information. On the other hand, if the child seems to be panicking, have some comforting information from the doctor ready to try to calm them down "Hey, Mary, 90 percent of people who have what I have come through it just fine."

Please download the full "70-40" Rule® Booklet (PDF 600K).

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