Dear Thelma: I am dealing with cancer and an abusive mum


By THELMA

Do you need a listening ear? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

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Those contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935/ 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999/ 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s family, social and community care centre (011-1959 8214 on WhatsApp); or Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929/ email sam@befrienders.org.my/ befrienders centres in malaysia).

Dear Thelma,

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote in. I'm still keeping up the fight and my spirits are high to stay alive.

However, all is not well at home. I have since been forced to leave home and stay by myself without much family support. It all began one night when I returned from an overseas trip. It was for medical reasons, meeting a holistic doctor who has experience treating cancer. I was shocked to find some of my personal belongings were removed.

One thing led to another and eventually I was in a heated argument with my mother. It was really traumatic and stressful, all the things I'm trying to avoid. I have always had heated exchanges with my mother. In fact, the rest of my siblings have had the same.

To give you and idea of her thought processes, she believes deeply in a thing known as "laws of abundance". It is also known as "laws of attraction", quantum physics and or manifesting. Proponents of these ideology claim they understand how the universe works and that everything is energy, frequency and vibration. My mother has a very strong belief in this. So much so that she reckons it is only a matter of time before she strikes windfall with a lottery win.

She listens to a particular "guru" on a certain social media platform that says all you have to do is reprogramme your mind. Apparently, she has been at it for a few years now, with no change in her fortunes. But she remains adamant and steadfast in her believes.

Even when I had my cancer diagnosed, all she had to say was: "Just tell yourself you are healthy." She wants me to wish reality away. It's really hard having a conversation with her nowadays as her ideology doesn't leave much space for common sense.

Also, she forgets things easily, and we have to keep repeating the same sentences again and again.

The night when I fought with her, she wasn't happy with my decision to get treatment abroad as she claims it cost a lot money. It didn't. It was well within my means. She also berated my attempts at understanding my cancer.

I bought books and watched some videos online. I have also adopted a clean way of eating and a fasting regiment which she ridiculed many times. I also take some herbal supplements recommended by healthcare professionals who have dealt with cancer patients. Even that she belittles.

My mother hates losing an argument so she resorts to verbal attacks that lack any substance. I was so appalled at what I heard, I just left home, with nothing more than some bags. So there I was, in the middle of the night, riding around desperately looking for a place to stay.

My mother condemned me to death by her words and actions. She doesn't seem to understand that I am still in danger here. Doctors have warned against being in stressful situations.

Before I left, she demanded I pay her a sum of money. I paid and I left. That was a huge chunk of my savings gone. I was going use that for some therapy sessions. After losing that much money, I couldn't continue and am struggling to recover it back.

My question is, who am I dealing with here? This is not normal behaviour. Even my younger sister is disgusted and doesn't trust her at all.

At the lowest point of my life, she does something like this. Now she is desperate for attention from me, and wants me to move back in. I don't feel like giving her a chance.

I will survive


I am so sorry to hear of your troubles. Let’s discuss the different elements and then come to some practical steps.

You were diagnosed with cancer. Your mother’s reaction is that thoughts can affect miracle cures. Magical thinking, of which attraction is a part, is cruel because it suggests that we make ourselves sick. It is victim blaming.

On top of this, she ridicules your accessing medical care, deliberately hurting your feelings.

Sadly, quarrels about cancer care are common. The problem is that there are many forms of cancer, many different treatments, and to compound this, personal health is also a variable.

Frankly, there are very few people who have an informed opinion.

Specialist doctors understand the biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, pharmacology, immunology, pathology, clinical medicine, statistics/data analysis, and bioinformatics that are required for a proper understanding and critical evaluation.

The rest of us get by with simplistic summaries. We don’t have the extensive training needed to understand it properly. This presents a dilemma.

As science is constantly evolving, treatments change, opinions evolve, and that’s all good and proper. That isn’t reflected well in the simplistic summaries we see.

As health issues are terrifying, all we want to hear is that it will be OK. And we want black and white answers. We don’t have the capacity for nuance.

Responsible doctors know that life is uncertain and treatments are not foolproof. So they act ethically and talk carefully. When we are looking for reassurance, this is unsatisfying. It makes us angry and even more afraid.

To further muddy the waters, medical professionals sometimes disagree with each other. Also, as with any profession, there are always a few rogue individuals and organisations that are dishonest. With this reported widely, it is hard to know what to think.

Unfortunately, scammers have no heart and no shame. They lie, promising complete easy recovery. They are also shameless at selling potions.

In 2017, a local research team led by Dr Noor Mastura Mohd Mujar, Universitiy Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang, found that 46.5% of 340 patients diagnosed with breast cancer invested an average of RM500 in unproven and disproven remedies. Other local studies found incidences of 51% in 2014 and 88.3% in 2007. Quackery is big business!

So there is a war going on.

When people are on different sides, the sensible thing is to close that subject. Good friends agree to disagree and talk about things you do agree on. This is not happening in your relationship.

You and your mum are angry and hurting each other. It seems this has been going on a long time. The battle is fought on multiple levels. In the latest fight, your mother abused you financially.

It suggests there is an abusive dynamic in your family. However, this is not the time to discuss it.

As you are not well, I strongly suggest a complete break. Don’t move back in. Stay away.

Your mum likes to fight and so she wants you back. Don’t be pulled in by emotional blackmail. Your mother will simply continue abusing you, and you will fight right back. This is pointless and in your current circumstances, may be dangerous.

So write a note that you’re taking a break, inform your sister so she can back you up, and focus on managing your health.

When you are clear of cancer, and completely recovered, discuss your family dynamics with a therapist who is skilled in abuse. In sessions, figure out how your family relationships work, how they affect you, and decide what you want to do next.

But for now, just focus on your health. Surround yourself with supportive people, eat well, sleep well, and look after yourself. The priority here is getting back to good health.

Know I’m thinking of you and wish you a speedy recovery.

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