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From the Trade Paperback edition.
Handling Fear and Anger
Feelings of fear and anger are intertwined in the cancer experience. Most people want to feel a sense of control in their lives, but cancer challenges that, and you go through a flurry of powerful feelings. Since there's no way to avoid the intensity of emotion that patients and families feel, the best thing you can do for yourself and for one another is to express yourself. No two people deal with cancer in an identical way, but what is universally true for anyone effected by cancer is the relief that comes from talking about it. Even people most resistant to the idea of support groups or counseling admit that they are a source of valuable information and bring focus to an overwhelming time of life.
Many fears and stresses accompany cancer. Fear of not being in control, fear of uncertainty and the unknown, fear of pain and change, fear of not being able to meet your obligations to family and job. Fears can mask themselves in anger and hostility, which is often directed at those you're closest to, as well as doctors, nurses, and technicians.
HALINA (therapist): People need a little time to let themselves feel the normal fear and pain that come with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It takes a very emotionally healthy and normal person, a person with ego strength, to have that fear and to grieve. Human beings have to grieve the catastrophes and losses that happen in life. Suppressing fear and sorrow interferes with the normal grieving process.
DR. MICHAEL (medical oncologist): I sometimes see people who put enormous amounts of energy into trying to repress negative thoughts, trying tokeep them away. I encourage patients to grapple with these thoughts, to allow them to roll over them, to wrestle these feelings to the ground rather than suppress them, because they're going to be there.
JANET: It's not just for yourself that you worry. I'm a single mother. When I got the news that I had breast cancer, I felt like someone was sitting on me, there was so much pressure. How am I going to get through this terrible trauma? How am I going to support my children financially? Emotionally? All I could do was say to myself, "Let's make today as good as possible, because we don't know what tomorrow holds."
MITCH: You worry, but you have to move on. The first thing I felt when I got the diagnosis for Hodgkin's disease was fear, then depression. I asked myself, "Why me? I'm an athlete, I'm active, why did I get this?" Then I asked myself, "Now that I have it, what do I do to beat it?" I had chemotherapy for quite a while and I had a bone marrow transplant. I'm a fighter. I went straight forward. I said, "Let's do this, let's get it done." I was scared, but I knew there was nothing to do but do it.
FRANK: My prostate was surgically removed four weeks ago. I'm doing well physically. However, the doctors are going to do a test next week to see if the cancer's still there. On one level I think I'm handling it well, but subconsciously I'm not. My wife tells me that I'm irritable and edgy. I don't think I'm worried, but maybe I am. I'm living with the concern, wondering what the test will show. Did they get all the cancer?
ROSEANNE: I know this isn't rational. Maybe it's because it's still so early into my diagnosis of breast cancer. I'm only twenty-eight and sometimes I'm afraid to close my eyes and go to sleep at night because I worry that I won't wake up.
GLEN: I'm a childhood cancer survivor. Sometimes I wonder if I'll develop a secondary problem from my treatment for leukemia. That's a fear I'm learning to live with.
MARIO: I'm afraid of everything. I'm fifty-seven and newly diagnosed with prostate cancer--I'm having the surgery in a few days. I'm afraid I'm going to die before the surgery, I'm afraid I'm going to die during surgery, I'm afraid they won't get all the cancer, I'm afraid I'll be impotent and incontinent forever, I'm afraid I'll be "cured," then get it again. I'm even afraid that it won't come back, but I'll live the next twenty years afraid that it will come back.
HALINA (therapist): It's OK to be scared. If you can acknowledge your fear to yourself, and those close to you, if you feel entitled to that emotion, and if you expect everybody else to allow you to have it, you will, paradoxically, feel less scared. Courage isn't not being afraid. It's being afraid but coping with that fear, bearing it, living with it. It's normal to feel scared when your health, physical integrity, or life is threatened. And it's OK. Instead of worrying about your fears, whether conscious, subconscious, or unconscious, remember that if you were running from a tiger in the middle of the jungle, you'd be scared. And dealing with cancer is a little bit like running from the tiger.
ELLEN COHEN (cancer activist, survivor): One of the hardest things for many lymphoma patients is the psychological impact of years of waiting and watching. I think it's a huge challenge. Once you get used to the fact that you're not going to die in the next two months, or six months, or year, it becomes a little easier to live with. But it does take time. All that we can really say is that you just have to wait.
JOE: I've got lymphoma, but the doctors say it isn't "ready" to be treated yet. I have to wait for it to get bad enough, which may be five minutes or five years from now. The waiting is driving me crazy. I wish it would just happen, then I could be horrified, have the treatment, throw up, lose my hair, then get on with life. I'd rather just deal with it than be in this constant state of continual, low-grade fear. It never ends. It won't end until I get the full-blown lymphoma. And then I may end.
PAULA: I also have lymphoma. The doctors say everything is under control, but I feel like there's a ticking time bomb in me. I wonder when I'm going to blow up.
HALINA (therapist): Having to wait and watch is so emotionally difficult. We know that uncertainty is the most painful, the most stressful, the most difficult thing of all. Those who have to watch and wait live with tremendous uncertainty. This deprives us of the one thing that helps with uncertainty: action, doing something.
MALCOLM: I'm too angry to be afraid. I've been mad at everyone and everything since my diagnosis. I'm only in my early thirties. I eat perfectly, I work out every day, and gear my life toward staying healthy, but I still got "ball" cancer! That pisses me off.
JEFF: I can't believe how irritable I feel. As soon as I walk into the doctor's office I become incredibly angry and hostile to the nurse and staff. I don't get it, because I know they're only trying to help me.
HALINA (therapist): Just a few days ago, I got a call from a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. She had already had surgery, but her doctors were now advising her to have chemotherapy. She was very angry with her doctors because of this. This is an example of displaced anger. She's angry at the experience of cancer. She's angry because her body and her life have come under terrible assault. Fear and anger connect, play into each other. Suppressed fear can come out as anger, and suppressed anger can create a tremendous amount of anxiety. We live in a culture that teaches us anger is a purely negative emotion. We are not supposed to feel angry, because it's bad energy. But it isn't bad. Anger, like sadness, despair, or fear, is a normal reaction to the experience of cancer.