What does it feel like when a friend with metastatic cancer learns that cancer has spread again?
Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
I’ve felt a lot of emotions since being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer back in early 2015. Fear. Sadness. Anxiety. Hope. Denial. Love, just to name a few. In fact, as has often been pointed out, cancer, at any stage, is a roller coaster of emotions—a roller coaster on which it can feel like you have an utter lack of control from the moment you are pushed into a seat.
What I haven’t felt: anger.
This was until yesterday, when a friend shared that her metastatic cancer, which looked to be well-controlled in her joyous and healthy body (heaven forbid anyone wonder if she’d been living any other way), had actually been busy spreading. I know perfectly well that the physicians are not to blame, nor the drug companies, nor God, nor the patient.
I also know perfectly well that anger is not an emotion to dwell in, but there are times when it is the most appropriate response. I can’t feel anger for my own situation — I want to feel the positive emotions much more than I want to be brought down by the negative ones — but I sure as hell can feel it for the women and men faced with a disease that just cannot be controlled. Yet.
Feeling anger made me wonder why we are so often encouraged and flat-out told to fight that emotion. We are told that a positive attitude can change the prognosis, that we need to enjoy the life we have, and on and on. These are all worthy sentiments and worthy of being put into practice. But there are times when anger may be the more effective emotion for a period of time, especially if it encourages change. Getting angry at treatments that don’t always work, angry about people who don’t understand what it means to face death every single day and who encourage a positive attitude when, sorry, just not feeling it, angry about doctors who hesitate, angry at a cancer that won’t give up the fight and sneakily hides away … Why are sadness, fear and anxiety so much more acceptable than anger to face in our own lives?
Is it because there’s nowhere for anger to go except inside your own body in a situation like metastatic cancer? Who the heck would I really be angry at anyway? Myself? I’ve already blamed myself and it hasn’t done me a lot of good. So when I feel anger about my friend’s situation, what am I angry at?
I am angry that she, like the rest of us metastatic patients, has treatments designed for patients with cancer caught at earlier stages and controlled, that there isn’t enough research money going toward treating metastatic disease, that, damn it, her life should not end early, and neither should mine nor yours.
She asked for positive thoughts and prayers, and I’m sending them nonstop. But tucked away, like those rogue cancer cells, is a little dose of anger within an envelope of positivity that I will direct toward the universe: Do something about this damn cancer!