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Cancer is the asshole~

Today was the first time in a long, long time that I’ve called Bruce an asshole—and the first time since his cancer diagnosis.

How can you call some one with cancer an asshole?

After all, cancer patients don’t feel good--they’re dealing with a deadly disease, there are all sorts of worries, frustrations, and side effects and changes to their bodies, quality of life issues... and all the other little quirky symptoms that I only find out about about when Bruce tells his nurse.

I’m pretty patient and understanding by nature, and all the more so now when he vents the inevitable “cancer anger” a little (or a lot).

Today he got impatient and snippy, frustrated that we couldn’t merge our iCalendars—he hates when technology goes awry. Who doesn't? For him, it's one more thing out of his control.

He started to tell me what I’d done incorrectly in the attempt to merge, and kept cutting me off when I tried to show him what I did...which, by the way, was correct!

“You’re being an asshole,” I hissed. Not to his face, but I’m sure he heard me. I meant him to hear.

He didn’t react. He knew he’d overreacted. Later he apologized.

But still, it’s such a balancing act. In “normal times” a little healthy anger has always been part of our relationship. Isn’t that the way with many? It’s a spark that’s over as soon as it flares.

But cancer moves in, and when the shock and horror of the diagnosis wears off and you get back to daily living--enough to express anger, no matter how petty--it’s kind of feels weird.

Really, how can you call someone with cancer an asshole?

Because sometimes he just IS.

And sometimes I am, too.

And so goes the battle--with “cancer anger” tossed into the mix.

Anybody can become angry--that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way--that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.  ~Aristotle.


Myra said…
I'd never heard of cancer anger until I read this post, but it certainly makes sense. For me, it was more of a case of cancer depression, which some say is anger turned inward. Good luck with everything.
paula ivaldi said…
Love that you are honest, that you find what's behind the emotion, and that there is grace at the end of it all!
Mark Robinson said…
My first experience with cancer up close as an adult was visiting a friend and co-worker dying of bladder cancer some 20 years ago. My wife and I delivered a much-coveted souvenir (windmill model) awarded to employees who had made a key contribution to an important schedule driven effort for the company. It was not what I thought it would be. Dave was not just angry. He was downright mean to his loving wife and caregiver - upset that she had slept through a scheduled morphine injection he was to receive in the middle of the night. He accused her with raised voice of not just forgetting, but withholding, not caring. Cancer is not pretty, and living with it is not what many Hollywood movies would have you believe.

I was stunned and I left a bit angry at him for treating his wife that way. It was a watershed moment for me because the harsh reality forced me to reflect on my self-centered perceptions. I went to that visit thinking what a thoughtful friend I was - delivering a gift that would delight him and evoke gratitude and thanks. In my mind it was all about me. But it meant nothing to him. He was looking into an abyss that none of his loved ones could see. He was in pain, on a forced march to an unknown place where no one could follow. In retrospect I imagined him resentful that our world would continue without him, and his - to the extent supported by his spiritual beliefs - without us. I imagine his experience was desperately lonely. Not all cancer experiences are as dire as his was of course. I know many cancer survivors.

I'm grateful for the way that event shifted my sense of self-importance. I feel blessed to have my own spiritual beliefs that bring a measure of meaning and comfort and preparation for whenever that day comes.

Admiring your honesty and courage and sending thoughts and prayers yours and Bruce's way...
Ruth D~ said…
Yes, Myra, they say anger and depression are the flip side of the same emotion...or something like that. If it were me with cancer, I might be more inclined to feel depressed than angry (although I can't say), but anger might feel stronger to some and might just deflect the depression. Who knows?
Ruth D~ said…
Thanks, Paula, if I'm not honest in what I write, then it's not cathartic; I use writing to explore my feelings, so it's helpful. If people judge my feelings, then in a way, they're lucky because that means they haven't had to experience the stuff I and others have.
Ruth D~ said…
Mark, I just mowed the lawn and spent a bit of that time thinking of your comment. I think when we are young, and haven't gained the wisdom of experience and deeper introspection, we do look though more self-centered eyes. And like you, we learn from it. That old "walk a mile in my shoes" credo is pretty accurate. Thanks for sharing. Who knew when we were sitting in high school classes together all those years ago, we'd be discussing this!
Gary Presley said…
From my perspective, the key word in your short essay is "control." Loss of control is a match, and the situation is the fuel.

How to deal with it? I don't know. Sometimes it's to give up, give away, turn your back and control and accept chaos. I can do that. Sometimes.

My wife uses anger, and stress being what it is, she bottles up the issue until it's beyond being contained. It doesn't help that she's forced to operate in a professional environment and must be in "control" all the time.

For me, it's taken me a long, long time to give up, to learn to not care, to understand ultimately we have no control. But my situation in chronic, and it generally makes no difference at all if I'm in control.

I don't know how my hard-earned, pretend-it doesn't-matter attitude would work facing cancer.

Keeping you both in my thoughts ...
Gary Presley said…
I meant "turn your back on the issue of control," he said.
Ruth D~ said… is multifaceted, and factors into so much of life and relationships, doesn't it? And yet, as you say, Gary, it's something we try to "maintain" until we can't...and in other situations, we don't heave a shred of control...although we can't give up the illusion that we do. Sigh.
Wanda said…
Hi dear Ruth.... I'm just catching up and didn't realize what you re going through. It's a strange thing that cancer and how each person reacts ~ the person with it, and those close to them. I was never angry because I had reason to be happy, Stage 1 a couple lumpectomies and 8 weeks radiation. It was my dearest that took it so very hard and my children. I won't know if I would be angry if it was life threatening. I only know like all the others commenting your honesty and perception is admirable. So glad to be back in your loop. Love, Hugs, and prayers.
Jody Ewing said…
Ruth, I don't know if there's even a word or phrase to describe another (unfair) thing about cancer, but it's something I think of in terms of others around them becoming "Cancer Seconds." Seconds ... as in no matter what challenges someone else faces or is dealing with in his/her life, it becomes "secondary" when visiting with or even living with a person with cancer.

A good friend of the cancer patient may be facing back surgery, or having to go in the hospital for a broken hip or ankle, but suddenly his/her ailments (which otherwise would be deemed quite important) became secondary afterthoughts, almost as if "Well, at least she/he doesn't have 'cancer.'" Caregivers and/or spouses face a whole different kind of stress than a regular person just worried about work. Caregivers and spouses are almost expected to be strong and loving and supportive and understanding, all while experiencing incredible stress and demands and seeing those in their own support system shift priorities over to the one with cancer. Even one's successes can be downplayed. (i.e. How can so-and-so be so happy about selling his first major painting when his wife has cancer!?) Everyone else's struggles and triumphs seem to fade away into the background ... they're secondary given the enormity of concern lavished on a family member or friend with cancer.

Cancer turns people's lives upside down in so many ways, and I don't know how any spouse could go through the process with his or her loved one *without* getting downright angry at times. And, it's not because they feel they're treated as "seconds," but because it can be a lot like living two lives at the same time. One still has his/her own life to live, but now they've taken on the additional role of handling things the other used to do. It can be exhausting, and despite all the articles out there about caregiver stress, so much is left unaddressed at so many levels. Loving family members and friends who do sympathize give the caregiver regular reminders to "take some time out just for yourself," but don't quite realize it's not at all like taking a short vacation from work, because "life as one once knew it" has been forever altered and one is forced to give up control and play by cancer's ever-changing and unpredictable rules. Like a card shark, cancer never plays fair.

Many hugs and much love to you and Bruce!
Ruth D~ said…
Jody, Your words mean more than I can say. They express things I have felt, little fleeting thoughts at the periphery that I couldn't define, much less put into words. They have made me understand a bit more why I, the (mostly) healthy one, find myself at such a loss for ... equanimity. I filter everything through the lens of "but HE has cancer" and that is a lens I'm not used to seeing the world through. With your understanding explanation, I may be able to be a little easier on myself...and I've NEVER been easy on myself even under the best of circumstances. Thanks. Hugs. You sound like you've earned your wisdom they way we all do: trial by fire.
Herry jonson said…
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