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i think my mom has lung cancer, but doesn't want to know


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I am staying with my mother for the summer. She is 71 years old and has smoked since she was 19. She has always had "smoker's cough" and has coughed up "junk" for years.

About a month ago, we were on a day trip and her cough seemed especially bad. I nearly ran off the road when I saw what I believe was fresh blood. She told me I was crazy...that she had just eaten cinnamon candy...that's all it was....

I wanted to believe her...so I let it go.

About two weeks ago, we were in the car together again...and this time, I am positive that she coughed up blood. I have been pretty nosey about it lately...and I believe she is coughing blood-streaked junk most of the time.

She has lost probably 30 pounds in the past year...and she looks ghostly pale. Recently, her voice has been hoarse...but not all the time. And she is having a terrible time breathing...and also a terrible time walking any distance.

I am scared to death.

She refuses to see a doctor about any of these things...usually telling me I'm crazy...there's nothing wrong...so I am not sure what is wrong...but I believe in my heart that she really may have lung cancer.

What worries me most is...how do I know what to do? If she needs to go to the ER, how will I know that? I feel like I am just waiting for something horrible to happen inevitably. I am living with her by myself...and my siblings, who mean well, appear to be in never-never land to some degree.

People have told me that I should try to coerce, guilty, use any means I can muster, to get her to a doctor. But I have tried absolutely every tactic in the world because I am so worried about her. But she absolutely refuses.

I don't know if she is just sick of living or if she really does not believe something is seriously wrong...or, after reading some of these posts, if she is choosing not to be treated...choosing not to know.

If anyone has any comments, or insights, or anything, they can offer, I would be most grateful.

Thank you.

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Dear Amelie,

This is tough. I think your Mother is probably scared to death and for her, no news is goods news.

Wish I had a magic solution. Have you talked to your Mother's doctor? He may have some ideas. But if she is adament, there is not much you can do except support and love her.

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My Dad was the same way. It took me MONTHS to get him to his Dr. His symptoms became something that he couldn't ignore any more. His knees and ankles had doubled in size and he could barely walk. That's what got him to the Dr. Like Ginny said, if your Mom won't go, there's not much you can do. Keep talking to her about it. Look up some of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer. Print them out. Show them to your Mom. Maybe seeing everything in black and white will give her the push that she needs. I pray that your Mom will get checked out and that it is nothing. Best wishes!


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She's in denial. She doesn't want to know what is wrong with her.

It might not be lung cancer, it could be empheseyma (sp?) or a combination of things, but whatever it is, it sure does sound serious.

I don't know what to tell you. Maybe just put her in the car and drive her to the emergency room one day. If it's a good hospital they won't let her go until they've run every test they think they need to do to figure out what is wrong with her.

Keep us informed and best of luck,

Karen C.

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I also think mabe she is frightened to find out what is wrong.With all the symptoms you stated no one could not recognize a problem within themselves.She may be fearing the worse when actually it may not be.It does sound serious & you need to find some way to get her to Dr.

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I had a support group friend whose husband refused to acknowledge his lung cancer, even after diagnosis. He would mention a "little spot, that was nothing". The man was a retired police officer who worked airport security. I guess he stopped the part time job as things got worse, and he was put on oxygen, but he NEVER DID acknowledge that he was ill.

This was after he'd been to the doctor. Had hospice and everything. Still told people he wasn't really sick. Really.

Perhaps you could make an appointment with the doctor and tell him of your concerns, and maybe he'll be able to arrange to get her in for a physical, routine . It will help you to know what you're dealing with, even if your mom doesn't want to know. That way you can at least prepare and think ahead of what you will need to do.

Otherwise, you could just accept that she's not going to cooperate. Take her to the ER if she asks. Call 911 if she stops breathing or collapses.

Whatever, it does leave you in a terribly difficult position, and I pray you find the strength to deal with the not knowing...


Prayers, always


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A lot of good advice here and yes it IS a hard place to be.

Just a thought, but how about comming at it from a different angle? As has been stated here already it may NOT be lung cancer. So maybe suggesting to your Mom that what is going on with her may NOT be so serious now but if she doesn't see someone about it it may just get REAL serious. You know, kinda like a small cut on the arm that, left untreated, could get infected?

Comming at it from that direction might help alleviate some of your Mom's fears.

Sending a couple extra prayers your way.


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Dear Amelie,

All of the responses here are very good. I can tell how much you love your mom and that you desperately want to help her.

Someone suggested taking her to ER. If you take her to ER and she gets mad and refuses treatment, they CANNOT make her get treatment. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things like this. I personally think you should respect your mother's wishes no matter how wrong you think they are. Yes, she probably knows she has something quite serious and is scared and just doesn't want to know - but that is her prerogative. Unless and until such time as she becomes incompetent, or physically you HAVE to get her to ER, there really isn't much you can do. Even if she got so bad that you had to rush her to ER, she could still refuse treatment. At that point, my guess is she probably wouldn't.

Now, having said all that, and having had a bullheaded, very difficult, independent mother of my own, I do have a suggestion. My mother was going to do what my mother wanted to do regardless of what anybody else ever said, including doctors. She even smoked in the bathroom at the hospital. When they told her to stop, she still smoked in the bathroom or snuck down the hall and got in the stairwell. She had cigarettes hidden everywhere. For the most part, all of us, including my dad, just left her alone and let her deal with the consequences of her own decisions - we really had no choice. My suggestion is that you simply be direct with your mother and softly and sweetly, looking her sweetly right in her eyes, tell her that you think she needs to see a doctor right away. Tell her that you know she probably doesn't want to face it, but that regardless of what the problem is, the doctors can do a lot these days to make her better. She also might be like my mom and be afraid of having to give up cigarettes. You can ask her if she's afraid of that, but she might not admit to it. In any case, if you can just get some communication going in a loving, caring NONJUDGMENTAL way, you might make some progress. If you feel the communicating isn't getting anywhere and she's provoked, then I would softly and sweetly back off and try to bring it up another time. She will only cooperate if she knows that you are on HER side and just want her to be well and comfortable.

THESE ARE ONLY SUGGESTIONS that I am offering because of my experience with my stubborn and strong-willed mother. My dad is the exact opposite. He will try to put it off, but I can point-blank tell him that he needs to see a doctor NOW, and he will do it. These suggestions may not work for you with your mom. Also, I'm not implying that you wouldn't be sweet, or that you are judgmental, but with sensitive people, they sometimes "hear" it that way whether you are or not. I know my mom always thought I was critical and judgmental of her drinking and smoking. I was when I was a teenager and young adult, but wasn't in later years, but it was still hard to get past that.

Best of luck to you, Amalie. Dealing with a strong-willed personality is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Whatever you plan ahead probably won't go as smoothly as you planned it. You will be in my prayers today and this weekend. Please let us know how things go.

Love, and God bless you,


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I'm so glad I found this group.

My mom's health has been deteriorating since my dad passed away three years ago. She is very opinionated (she was a red-head) and tells me that doctors can't do anything for you...that all they want is to do surgery...and that kills you.

Once, several years ago, she had pneumonia and refused to see the doctor until she was very ill. The doctor's office was very overbooked, but agreed to see her the same day I called. When we arrived, she was so sick and uncomfortable, she walked out of the examination room and went to the car. I explained to the doctor that she was sick and impatient and he actually went out to the car to try to examine her.

He was that concerned for her, but my mother refused to be examined, even outside in the car.

When she most recently coughed up what appeared to be a blood clot, I tried being direct and firm. "Mom, you are coughing up blood--that's serious...let's go see a doctor." But she basically refuses to acknowledge it's blood. Often, its discolored (brown, speckeldy, or yellowish)....and she totally attributes the discoloration to whatever food she's claimed she's eaten that day. When I mention doctor, she says I "better not start that..."

I generally don't believe it's food because when she coughs, it sounds as though the junk is coming from her lungs....not her stomach (if that makes sense).

One of the reasons that I am hesitant to drive her to see a doctor...or directly to the ER...is that I believe she will refuse treatment...and even worse, I believe she will refuse to come back to Texas (where the rest of my sibs are) in the fall. (She stays in WV for half the year and TX the other half.) I really don't think her health would survive winter in WV and I would be scared to death if she were living by herself.

Although she hasn't been in terrific health for a while, I am just very worried/concerned about her. She looks terrible to me...and I don't really know how to explain it...but she just looks awful. She seems to take Tylenol Flu constantly....and a barrage of vitamins (which also leads me to think she doesn't feel well...because she usually doesn't take medicine unless she is very sick).

What baffles me most...is the way she is coping with sickness. People will ask her how she is, she replies "great." She found out I told by brothers and sisters that I believed she was coughing blood and I was worried; her response was "so you think i'm going to die?" (which made me feel terribly guilty...but I am scared here by myself and I don't want my sibs to blame me if something bad does happen.) And when I try to express my concerns, she tells me I'm crazy.

Yet, she will talk to our dogs...and tell them she's not feeling so great. She will tell me that she is very tired. And she makes comments about death a lot. When a friend recently came by to visit, she whispered to me, "don't tell her I'm sick; I don't want it all over town."

So it's all very hard for me to understand. Sometimes, I do feel crazy....like maybe I am overly sensitive or maybe I just worry too much. But I have been sporadically keeping a diary about her health over the past three weeks and I don't think I am exaggerating what happens when I reread my old entries. I am generally not a morbid person, but I find myself sort of rehearsing what I will do if something goes wrong. And, at the same time, I feel guilty for having such morbid thoughts---like maybe I am bringing this on myself, and her, somehow.

I am scared. I am 29 years old and I lost my dad three years ago. And the truth is, I understand it might not be cancer...but everything I've read seems to fit...and what if it is? Or, even if it isn't, and it is something else...she looks so terrible that I believe it is something bad.

I am rambling...sorry this is like a seven-page long post.

Thank you again for your replies.

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Oh, sweetie. I am so very sorry. You are too young to be carrying around this kind of responsibility. You are only 2 years older than our son. You are bringing back so many memories of my mom. If I would say anything to her about her health, she would also say things that would make me feel guilty for asking. Most of the time she was pretty nice about any other subject, but if I, or anyone, ever tried to suggest she do anything about her health, she would spout off sarcastically and freeze up - subject closed. She was even like that with her doctor. My dad and I took her to the emergency room one time and the doctor asked her if she would like to get some help with her drinking. Her response was to start singing, rolling her eyes and looking around the room. The doctor was a young man and he just had a sad face when she did it. My dad got incredibly embarrassed. For some reason, I started laughing. It was totally "in character" for my mother. I kindly told the doctor thank you and to not worry about it.

I guess I'm telling you all about my mom because the only thing I can do to help you is to identify with you. I wish I could do more, but I'm afraid that your hands are probably tied on this one. Like I said earlier, I would just try to love her and get all kinds of other communication going with her and maybe eventually she will open up to you, but maybe not.

DeanCarl told me a while back that I should just be "with" my husband and not try to push him to talk and that way, when he was ready to talk, I would be his "safe place." Perhaps you can do this with your mom. Just love her, spend time with her, bring her home a hot fudge sundae unexpectedly, pick her some wild flowers and watch TV with her. Talk about other things, and maybe get into some other deeper subjects so that talking about "deep" things won't be so hard for her when (or if) she's ready to talk.

And finally, the most important thing is to ask God to help you to know how to react to your mother not feeling well, and to send you some help. I can't promise you that He will send you a lightning bolt, heal your mother instantly of whatever is wrong with her, or anything else miraculous. It's been my experience that He usually sends us help through a person. The person could be somebody you know now or somebody you will meet or somebody your mom will meet. Perhaps this board and everyone here is already the answer to your prayer. I don't know. What I do know is that if you ask, He will help in some way. Trust me. Say that prayer and keep your eyes open for that special person or persons. God love you!!! :)



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Dear Amelie,

We had the same problem with a friend of mine. He was coughing terrible and coughing junk and he had a big tumor on his chest. He was terribly thin and his feet were all swelled up. We begged and begged him to go to the doctor and he wouldn.t. Finally he was having bad pain in his chest and felt awful. He finally went to the Er. They took a biopsy and he had lung cancer. He took chemo and radiation and it finally shrunk the tumor. He lived nearly three years. He had squamous cell NSCLC. At least if your Mom is having pain and doesn't want treatment, hospice would help her stay out of pain. He didn't want to quit his smoking and drinking and he didn't until the last three months. He had hospice and they were wonderful to him.


P.S. Doesn't pneumonia sometimes cause you to cough up blood? Someone we knew had a mass on her lung and it turned out to be an abscess, not lung cancer. Wishing you the best. Hope your Mom will be okay.

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Just a thought, but what if you told your mother you are afraid that she has TB? Let her know that it is contagious. See if she will get checked out for your sake and the sake of all those around her. I know how frustrated this must all be. You have to respect her wishes and yet you feel responsible. She is responsible for herself ...all you can do is try to guide her decisions a little.


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The NEXT time your mother asks you if you think she's going to die, be honest. Look her directly in the face and tell her what you think.

As for other diseases that cause coughing up blood - look up the symptoms for tuberculosis. That's what I was being tested for when I was diagnosed with pneumonia... TB would be a WORSE diagnosis for YOU, it's contagious.

Share your concerns with your mother. Sounds like she's still sharp and "in control" of any given situation. Put the control in her hands but on your terms...

Good luck. I understand the stubborn hard-headedness from the other side! LOL


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Guest bean_si (Not Active)

Amelie, I wish I knew what to say to you. I know that I have gone through periods of denial and how hard it was on my daughter. I just remember that when I was in that stage, nothing could sway me.

I think others have offered good advice. I would listen to them.

What if all she has has walking pneumonia or severe chronic bronchitis that's getting worse. Maybe if you say something like that to her and say that if she goes into the doctor they can take care of it. Otherwise it will get worse and worse.

I will say prayers for you and your mom. I'm sure she's frightened (and goodness knows - so are you). I hope she'll stop the denial soon.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi everybody. Thank you for your replies--they mean a lot to me. I tried approaching the situation with my mom by explaining that this stuff, whatever it is, might be treated easily....if only she would go see a doctor. But to no avail. So I still have absolutely no idea what is wrong. What makes me sick, is that she seems to be sleeping SO much and appears to be in a lot of pain. She's been complaining of severe pain in her arm and her back & I don't know what to do for her besides a heating pad. I realize that it's hard to give someone advice when they can't really tell you what's wrong...but, does anyone know what might help with severe back pain? Thanks.

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  • 3 months later...

I know how frustrating it can be. My Mom is 87 and has metasticed breast cancer in the right lung. She didn't want to know; due to a shattered elbow on my part, Mom is in a nursing home. We had a very unprofessional employee come in a blurt it out it her!!!! Thanks a lot!!!! Been very hard on all of us. I am an only child, have very little support, and what I do get is all about Mom, nothing about me or the granddaughter.

Remember you are in my prayers, that is the only source of peace there is in a very difficult situation.

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