Does a woman who hates her sister owe it to her to reveal a breast cancer diagnosis, since family history is a major risk factor for this disease?
This is truly a mind-bending – or shall I say, -warping – question of ethics.
• What is the right thing to do?
• Or to put it another way, the Christian thing to do?
• What is the moral thing to do?
Would it be to withhold this information from the estranged sister?
Assume that withholding the news has NOTHING to do with fearing that the estranged sister will blab it to the whole world.
Assume that the woman with breast cancer won’t tell her estranged sister because, at a minimum, she just doesn’t care for her sibling.
It would be honorable to put aside the hate and hostility, if it’s actually to that degree, and just tell her. This way she knows she now has an added risk factor, and it may influence her breast cancer surveillance program.
But what if a woman tells three siblings, none of whom she’s ever been close to, at the time of diagnosis, but then doesn’t tell the fourth sibling until 13 months later?
This actually happened to me.
My sister and I have never been friends. However, she was never friends with the other three siblings, either. Not all families operate like “The Waltons” or “The Brady Bunch.”
So why was I the odd man out?
Some Facts to Consider
I would have understood my estranged sister’s decision not to reveal her breast cancer diagnosis had she ALSO kept it from the three other siblings. That would have made perfect sense.
A breast cancer patient does not have to tell ANYONE. But I can’t say this enough: There is no rhyme and reason in leaving one sibling out when you’re not friends with the other three either! That’s the kink in the chain!
In fact, she seems to contact the oldest brother (who’s very wealthy) only when she wants money.
She was in contact with the second brother for a number of years ONLY because he lived nearby her, and it wasn’t close. It was more of a familial-based obligatory thing: invite him over on major holidays.
When he moved out of her state, the contact stopped – ON BOTH ENDS. He now lives near me and our parents. The other two siblings have always lived far from her and our parents.
She has never been in regular contact with the other sister, and they couldn’t be further apart in personality.
Among my two sisters and these two brothers (there’s a third), it’s very accurate to state that there is NO relationship, no cheery and chummy camaraderie, nada, zero, nothing.
And it’s the same with me and this particular sister as well. So why didn’t she tell me of the breast cancer diagnosis? This is why I’m livid.
Tell Two Brothers of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis but Not Both Sisters?
So after I received my sister’s snail mail telling me of this shocking news – 13 months after the diagnosis – I fired back an e-mail calling her on why I was left out of the revelation early on, when she told the three other siblings.
Before you chastise me for not being more sympathetic and instead focusing it more on myself and hence sounding selfish, let me say that the tone of her letter was actually quite high-spirited, including telling me, “Cancer picked the wrong girl.” She said, “I’m doing great!” She expressed no fear of recurrence.
She obviously didn’t need my sympathy. She never even minded the hair loss, though she wore a wig and even prefers to continue wearing it for the convenience.
So yes, I felt justified in asking why three siblings were notified early on, including two MEN, when no warm and fuzzy relationship has ever existed with them.
My second brother and I are occasionally over our parents’ house at the same time. My sister answered that she and my brother feared that I’d “slip” the alarming news to my mother by accident.
I don’t buy this. My brother has always known that I’m the last person to reveal troubling news to our elderly mother, who’s prone to excessively worrying about her kids.
I even once chastised him for telling her he had no medical insurance. When he mildly sprained a knee weightlifting, I warned him not to tell her EVEN THAT.
When I sprained an ankle a few years ago, I warned the third brother — who still does not know of the breast cancer diagnosis — not to tell our mother!
I also admonished this third brother for causing my mother endless sleepless nights — he had told her he lost his job! He could have easily concealed this, as he was living out of state at the time.
So the idea that I come across as someone who might “slip” such devastating news to our mother is totally freaking not believable.
I then asked my second brother about this exclusion. Here’s his explanation:
- Suppose I was told of the breast cancer diagnosis along with this brother.
- Sooner or later we’d subsequently be at our parents’ house at the same time.
- We then might start talking about the diagnosis.
- My mother might then overhear.
Do you buy that? I sure as hell didn’t, especially since my mother’s hearing is bad! Everyone knows you can carry on a soft conversation in the same room as her and not be understood!
Besides, if a woman has only ONE sibling to reveal the diagnosis to, out of genuine fear of it getting overheard, don’t you think she should have told only the SISTER? After all, whose risk of breast cancer soars with a family history: a man’s or a woman’s?
So what would I have done differently had I been told at the get-go? I would have had a seven-month lead on serial ultrasound screenings (I also have dense breasts and began the serial screenings about six months before my sister’s revelation).
And the honest truth is, I would NEVER have “slipped” the information, and now that I know that my estranged sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, I have NO plans whatsoever of telling our parents.