Dear Richard Madeley: I only have months left to live – and there is tension between me and my sister

Two people holding hands
'I don't know how to get things back to how they were – and I don't want it to be too late' - Getty

Dear Richard

I have had significant treatment for metastatic cancer over the past five years. Unfortunately I have recently been told that my condition is untreatable and I have only months to live.

I am writing to you about my elder sister. Over the years she has helped me financially, emotionally and practically. When I left hospital in February she stepped in to help look after me during my recuperation from my last, unsuccessful surgery. I’ve been staying at her house for three months; I was here when I received my terminal prognosis.

At first she was a great comfort but now she seems short-tempered with me. There is a tension between us which has never been there before.

I realise that she is worried sick about me and I know that it’s not really me she is annoyed at but cancer itself. It doesn’t help that I’m on steroids, so I’m quite hyper. But understanding all this doesn’t improve the atmosphere.

This is potentially our last year together, and I don’t want it to be one of angst, arguments and estrangement. I’m also aware that I have come to rely on her support and I am afraid of getting sicker without it. I’ll be going home for a while soon, so we’ll have a bit of time apart; she is going to visit friends and have a break from caring, so that may be a chance to reset. I don’t know how to get things back to how they were – and I don’t want it to be too late.

— Anon, via email

Dear Anon

Actually, I think you do know what to do, at least in part. You’re clearly a person with insight, perception and empathy. You’ve astutely analysed the psychological reasons behind your sister’s behavioural changes towards you – and I think you’re spot-on.

She’s angry with the cancer, not you – but the lines have become blurred. And as you say, the situation isn’t helped by your being on steroids, so there’s a lot of heat building under the pan and it’s not surprising it’s threatening to boil over.

But what to do? As you yourself suggest, you should go home, Anon, while you’re well enough to do so. You need to establish a firebreak between you before any further and possibly lasting damage is done to the relationship.As you say, the time is coming when you’ll depend on her like never before, but you’re not quite at that point yet. So take advantage of what independence is left to you and – to quote your wise words – give things a chance to reset.

And I’m sure they will. Carers need breaks and your kind, loving sister is no exception. I sense you are naturally good at managing things, Anon, and I’m sure you will manage this temporary hiatus. I wish you both the very best.