My heart hurts tw terminal illness

I have a cousin that I love very much but have had a rocky relationship with for many years. She has borderline personality disorder but refuses treatment. So we’ve gone through times where we can get along and then she’ll cut me out of her life for months or years at a time. Right now we are talking with each other. But she and her husband are going through hell. He has terminal cancer and neither of them are handling this well. He is struggling with the fact that he’s dying and she is overwhelmed with the fact that she is losing her husband.

Because this is so overwhelming for both of them, my heart is to be there to support and help them through this time. Unfortunately, because she tends to get angry and isolate when she is overwhelmed it’s really hard to be there for them. They are refusing to let others in to help yet I’m receiving text messages about how she can’t do this, how she is overwhelmed with taking care of him and their home and their dogs (including a puppy) and she rants about how this is taking a toll on her. When I ask how I or others can help she tells me “you can’t fix this”. She’s said the same to other family members. Her responses remind me of a scared, cornered animal and I’m getting scratched and bit up when I reach out. I’m going to be there for them but…

I think I just need a hug, a shoulder to cry on and a couple of band aids…


instead of viewing it as “treatment”, and making her feel she is broken and needs to be fixed, can you tell frame it as talking to someone who can help her feel better and cope with what’s going on?
Losing her husband must be triggering all her deepest fears. You probably can acknowledge that yo indeed can’t “fix it”, but there are ways to make it a bit more bearable. What do we do with scared animals, we give them space yes, but we also make sure that they know there is an ocean of love there for them when they’re ready.

Will she accept gift cards or a hot meal? Start with tangible expressions of care, if someone close by can offer to walk the dogs and puppy, and not try to engage her in too much conversation “Hi, I’m here for pooch pickup!”.
Maybe making life easier in small ways can help her feel a bit more reassured that she can rely on you a bit more.

It’s not easy wanting to help and not being able too, hopefully a couple strategies like this can help you feel a bit more engaged too.
big hug


Oh @Sita thank you for the love! You have offered wonderful thoughts and advice that I totally agree is what the approach should be. You have good wisdom and insight.

My cousin has accepted meals occasionally. But to come by to walk the dogs for her? Nope, she says they are the only ones to do that. Family and friends have offered tangibles like that only to be told, “no thank you, we’re fine”. She won’t even let their kids help beyond rides for him to the doctor. Her daughter was able to pay for Blue Apron for them which encouraged me.

I guess my heart is hurting because I’ve been there caring for my dad through terminal cancer and my mom’s stroke (simultaneously). I know how overwhelming that was. I can’t imagine what it’s like when it’s your spouse. Again, thank you so much for the love my friend!!!


My dear friend,

The slightest touch gives her excruciating pain.

The big thing here is that her fear of being abandoned is coming true. When someone with BPD is faced with loosing someone they love, it hurts more than you can imagine. I’m not playing down anyone else’s pain, everyone’s pain is of course valid. But, people with BPD feel emotions 10x more than people without it. So, loosing her partner is literally her world ending for her.

I’ve gave this example to you already, but imagine a time in your life where you were the most scared you’ve ever been and multiply that times 10. You’re analogy is 100% correct about her being a scared animal.

I love how much compassion you have for others and I know it’s probably pretty confusing and hurtful. This is how we deal with our extreme emotions, we isolate and cut out the world. The slightest touch makes her hide, but at the same time, she probably wants to be supported. She just doesn’t know how to ask for it.

That’s what we do, we push people away, but want desperately to be supported and loved at the same time…

It doesn’t look like you’re blocked, so all you can do is just text her back and tell her how much she is loved and that you are there for her and care.

I love you my friend.



Thank you!! You described exactly what’s happening. And it helps me understand so much better. I need to hear this. Love you back.

1 Like

Hi Friend.
First, I want to say that I’m so very sorry that your family is experiencing the extremely life altering thing that cancer is.
As a cancer survivor, I want to say that sometimes accepting help and sympathy brings a “realness” to the experience. When I was diagnosed I didn’t want help or sympathy. I didn’t want the reminder of what I was going through and I didn’t want to accept that it was really happening. As a caretaker, your family member is probably going through some of that denial. Sometimes it’s best to just ask how they’re doing. Offer a distraction in a loving way.
I wish I could reach out and hug you! This is a very difficult thing to walk through. Im here if you need to talk. Sending lots of love your way.


From: ManekiNeko

mamadien, I’m so sorry that your cousin is dealing with this huge burden. I’m someone who has a tendency to lash out and isolate myself when I become overwhelmed. I felt like I needed someone to just listen to my frustrations, but didn’t want them to respond. I can see now how frustrating that is for the person on the receiving end. Perhaps you’re listening to her rants and her emotions in the moment is the outlet she needs to cope with this. I also know that people on the receiving end may find that hard because what they’re seeing is - negative input with no positive action- I don’t have bpd so I can’t speak to how much of an impact this is having for her with that factor as well.

perhaps she’s needing to feel the normalcy of life around her because this is something so out of her control, so hopefully she might be open to involving people in her day to day activities instead of letting them do it for her?
Sending you a truck load of love


Hi Mamadien,
thank you for sharing all of this. i am so sorry to hear about that. that you have to go through that. my toughts are
with you.
it is hard when you see your loved ones suffer, and then also not accepting help. when you offer your help more
and more, they might will get cornered even more from time to time.
maybe just ask them to spend time with you ? walk the dogs with her ? just be there, with them and talk about
all kinds of stuff, enjoy time with them and not “offering” help in that way. when i accept help, or someone is
spending time with me in my hard times, its often something i enjoy to be treated normally. not mention something
about mental health or stuff like that. just go for a walk, take time for a coffee, play games or do silly stuff.
spending time with someone is the greatest gift we have, because time is more worth than anything else.
you are doing great and you care about them. you love them, and they will appreciate that. give them space to
breathe do small steps. you matter also, take care about yourself. you are amazing, for us here you are big part
in this community like you are for your family. you are loved my friend, proud to call you a friend.
feel hugged :purple_heart:


My wonderful friends -

Thank you for all of the support, the love, and the great reminders about just being present with my family. I forget that sometimes people just need to be heard and understood. I feel her overwhelm and I want to alleviate it. And that’s not always what is needed. I will be reflecting on all of this and feeling the warmth of the love and hugs you have sent my way. Thank you!