Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


Dear Virginia,

I'm a single parent and my son is 23. He recieved a very poor degree from his university and is struggling to find a job. He's also recently been dumped by his girlfriend and is feeling very depressed - he lives in a house with some friends. My problem is that I have just discovered I have cervical cancer. No one can tell me what my chances are of survival. I have a supportive group of friends but I just don't know whether to tell my son. I don't want to add to his worries. What should I do?

Yours sincerely, Catrin

Virginia says... You wouldn't take a stake away from a weak plant without, I hope, making sure there was some other support in place. So before you tell your son, I think you should confide in someone – obviously his father, if you're in touch with him, or his grandparents, or even a friend who he regards as some kind of aunt-figure. Some who has known him all his life. Even better, confide in two such characters, and tell them both that you're relying on them to look after your son emotionally not only while you're ill but also, if it comes to that, for as long as they can.

And then you must tell your son himself. He'll be distressed, of course, but not half as distressed if he thought you couldn't confide in him. Imagine if you suddenly died and he found that everyone knew except him. He'd feel not only betrayed by his girlfriend but also one of the people he's probably closest to in his whole life.

And however well you feel you know your son, you have no idea how he's going to react to the news. It's true, he might go to pieces, but on the other hand, he might come into his own. Your illness might be a rallying point for him, a time when he realises that he can't depend on you any more, and that now he has to be the strong one.

It may be that he will grow emotionally out of this experience, whatever the outcome, and the fact that he'll be needed now might, instead of reducing him to a heap, actually make him feel better about himself.

You have no idea until you tell him.

Obviously it would be best not to confide your wildest fears to him. Don't throw yourself sobbing at his feet. But it's no bad thing for a child of your son's age to see that a parent can be vulnerable on some occasions. There will probably be some point in his life, even if you live to a great age, that you will have to depend on him to some extent, and there is no "good time" for this to happen.

Tell him honestly what's going on at every stage and try to keep as calm as you can. If he wants to, let him come with you to see the doctors and have a chance to ask his own questions. Give him some control.

All this might be a lesson for him, not only in how to live, but also in how to face death, even if as of course I hope, it doesn't come to it.

Readers say…

Tell him gently

Sit your son down and gently tell him that you have cancer; he will want to support you – you may well discover he has hidden depths. Your son has friends so he is obviously highly regarded despite his depression. Perhaps approach one of his friends and ask him/her to be supportive. Make sure your financial affairs are in order but stress survival rates for cancer are high these days.

Marie T Hale

By email

He's an adult

Catrin, your son has legally been in the adult world since he was 18. It is time to treat him with maturity and inform him of your condition. We all have to come to terms with bad news of our loved ones; the sooner you tell him, the longer he will have to adjust to the situation. What a shock it would give him if you were rushed to hospital, or have to undergo debilitating therapies, and he was unprepared. You cannot protect your son for ever from life's realities. For him, it may put his own problems into perspective.



Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I was very unhappy when my boyfriend of three years suddenly dropped me. It's taken me six months to get over him and I still don't feel I've recovered. I really thought we might get married. Now I've got a new boyfriend, whom I like a lot and who's very kind and considerate and we get on really well. In many ways he's a nicer person than my old boyfriend, but I still hanker after him.

My old boyfriend got in touch recently and said he'd made a terrible mistake and wanted to get back together. Do you think I should risk it? I feel so torn – I can't stop thinking about him!

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Moira to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to, or go to Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Trust Accountant - Kent

    NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

    Geography Teacher

    £85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

    Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    £17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style