Terminally ill parent during PhD

posted
06-Jan-19, 17:10
Avatar for fruitbat
posted about 2 months ago
I am in need of advice in a tough situation. A month ago, my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive type of brain cancer. Since treatment would prolong her life only a few months, she will most probably die in the next 3-4 months.
I am now eight months into a competitive PhD program and was just making progress with my project. I do not want to drop out or take a break that is too long since I have dreamed of becoming a researcher since school. Work keeps me focused, but I also feel guilty about being several hundred kilometers away and not helping my dad with caregiving.
My primary supervisor is partially informed and very supportive, but I am wary about telling other members of my committe or colleagues. I have previously witnessed people in academia doubting the work of colleagues because "the person has emotional problems" (although that happened at my old institution, not my current one).
posted
07-Jan-19, 11:44
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 2 months ago
Make sure you talk to someone about all this. Be it a friend, therapist,, university counselor, times like this can be very stressful and you shouldn't go through it alone.

I would take a leave of absence. Your final months with your Mum is precious and you can always come to your PhD. All universities will give you an extended leave of absence in your circumstances which will not affect you work too much. This is a legitimate reason to take a break, don't be too hard on yourself and other academics will be very supportive.

I am sorry to hear you are going through this and I wish you and your Mum all the best.
posted
07-Jan-19, 11:51
edited about 13 seconds later
by eng77
Avatar for eng77
posted about 2 months ago
Hello. I am sorry to hear about your mother. The short answer is yes, take a time off now. The long one is if you do not do it, you will regret it. Take 2 or 3 months off. Nobody will be angry (and if they will), they can go smash their heads in the wall. It is your life not your supervisors or the committee or whatever they call themselves. PhD students take time out for less serious reasons. If you won't do it for this, then what reason else is more important? Just spend some days helping your father and seeing your mother (even if she cannot feel it, you do feel it). You do not have also to tell everybody the full story. Just tell the supervisor. Others will only know you are off because of personal family circumstances.
Nothing will happen to your PhD because of time-off. Also this is not the last PhD opportunity in the world.
posted
07-Jan-19, 12:03
edited about 15 seconds later
Avatar for Thesisfun
posted about 2 months ago
In part, I think this depends on your relationship with your family and the condition of your mum?

If you take a temporary withdrawal, what will you do?

If my mother didn't need much care at the moment, I would tempted to carry on at present, but work quite flexibly so I could take regular trips to see her- e.g. long weekends Friday to Monday. There will be many other people wanting to spend time with her so need to be careful about over-burdening her. It is the quality, not quantity, of time that matters.

Depending on your funding, your relationship with your university may be akin to an employer-employee in which case you need to understand the relevant HR policies re: unpaid leave etc.
posted
08-Jan-19, 14:22
edited about 5 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From fruitbat:
I am in need of advice in a tough situation. A month ago, my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive type of brain cancer. Since treatment would prolong her life only a few months, she will most probably die in the next 3-4 months.
I am now eight months into a competitive PhD program and was just making progress with my project. I do not want to drop out or take a break that is too long since I have dreamed of becoming a researcher since school. Work keeps me focused, but I also feel guilty about being several hundred kilometers away and not helping my dad with caregiving.


This must be very difficult for you but I was interested when you used the phrase "I also feel guilty about being several hundred kilometers away and not helping my dad with caregiving."

This is primarily your dad's problem. It's why people get married. There are good times and then at the end there are difficult times. You should not be feeling an obligation to help. I would be horrified if any of my children felt guilty about me dying and I certainly would never ask them to put their careers on hold for me. That would be my wife's job unless she dies first in which case it would be my obligation to her to be there for her.The worst part of this is that you'd be doing it out of guilt rather than anything else.

There will be a time and a place for you to help out and it might be that you take a few short breaks to visit over the next few months but the idea of suspending your work for possibly unspecified number of months is going way beyond what should be expected of you.
posted
10-Jan-19, 17:45
Avatar for fruitbat
posted about 2 months ago
Thank you so much for your answers, writing about this situation already helps a bit. I have thought things over a bit more and with a clearer head, I am incredibly lucky to live in a place where healthcare is good and a nurse comes to my parents' home several times a day so there is not much more practical help I could currently provide. I am quite sure my dad would even disapprove of me suspending my PhD since it always has been very important for my parents (both of advanced age) that I am able to provide for myself and would add to his stress. The guilt I wrote about is more because I expect of myself to help in some way and I can mostly just stand by and watch. Taking long weekends off to visit in the next months seems a good option and maybe a few weeks when we know her health worsens. It should not be a huge problem to take unpaid leave but I cannot do that for too long since I depend on the salary (and I would probably go crazy without the sense of normalcy that going to work provides). I will discuss this with my supervisor to find a solution.
posted
16-Jan-19, 10:13
by eng77
Avatar for eng77
posted about 2 months ago
Hi. Although I have earlies recommended you to take a break, I look now in a different way after reading other responses. Taking long weekends sounds reasonable. Also one very bad thing a lot of people do, is to "sacrifice or hurt themselves" without giving the others any benefit. This is a common and bad behaviour to do the "unwanted useless" sacrifice for someone who does not need it.
posted
07-Mar-19, 23:17
edited about 28 seconds later
Avatar for fruitbat
posted about 2 weeks ago
I would like to thank everyone again for your advice. I talked to my supervisor and we agreed on me working remotely, so I was able to spend time with my mother while she still knew who I was. In the end, things moved faster than expected and she died in mid february. I spent some time with family and have started to go back to work a few days ago. A lot of people at my institute have been very kind but I am also reluctant to share too much personal information in the workplace so I am very glad about this forum where I could be open.

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