Cancer Centers Need a Room for Rage

Article

Anger is a reaction to injustice, which cancer certainly is. Sometimes I wished there was a place in the cancer treatment centers to let that rage out.

I’d like to say a few words about cancer and anger from a personal perspective as a caregiver. (Well, I had more to say than a few words about it. However, sharing that brutally honest, rageful rant here would not be appropriate.)

Before I begin, I want to say, if you are angry about cancer, LET IT OUT! Especially if you are a patient. Although dated and badly needing follow-up, there are clinical studiesout there that link cancer and poorer outcomes to suppression of emotions. It seems that pretending to be brave by masking your emotions can make the struggle against cancer harder.

I can only wonder if my late wife would have been more authentic and vulnerable in sharing her emotions— her fears, her sadness, her anxieties, her anger — if the course of her cancer ordeal would have been different.

When you or a loved one gets diagnosed with cancer, you grieve. And one of the stages of grief is anger. Regardless of what the toxic positivity crowd thinks with their clueless messages and shallow memes of “good vibes only,” anger is not a bad emotion. It’s a reaction to an injustice, and cancer is an injustice. A cruel, heartless unfairness that crushes dreams, causes unbearable suffering, and robs people of their lives.

And as a caregiver, I was no stranger to anger because of my wife’s cancer diagnosis. Like grief, it came in waves.

Just watching chemicals get injected through ports in my wife’s chest and skull that I knew would make her horribly ill later that day would invoke deep concern, sadness, and often, anger.

“This is the best medical science has?! Plant toxins that have been used for decades?! Chemicals that can make you puke your guts out for days. Noxious substances that the oncologist hopes kills the cancer before it kills the patient! Substances so toxic I almost need a hazmat suit just to hug her! Are we still living in the Dark Ages?! This is barbaric and inhuman!” I would seethe to myself as I sat with her at every chemotherapy session.

Near the end of her first round of chemotherapy, we were at the oncology infusion center waiting for my wife’s weekly treatment for her BRCA2-associated breast cancer while a TV was playing on the wall in front of us.

An inane old comedy show had just ended and a commercial for the latest cancer drug started playing. That overwhelmed me with anger. Of all places this was not the time or place to have to watch this ad.

As a perky voice-over explained the “wonders” of this new drug, stock piano music played in the background while sunny scenes with smiling people appeared on screen. 

Then a gut-wrenching text ran along the bottom that read something like this: The average progression-free survival (time from treatment until disease worsens) was 4.3 months for patients who received our drug, compared to 2.7 months for patients who didn’t receive our drug.

“What?! What?! A drug that probably costs thousands of dollars and probably comes with a
s***tload of side effects only provides, at best, a couple extra months of quality life?! My wife and I have long-term hopes and dreams. I want her to have years! We’re supposed to grow old together!” A voice inside me raged.

Good thing there were no small tables or chairs nearby that I could pick up and launch at the TV.

After seeing that commercial, I needed a break. I made sure my wife was doing OK and gave her a reassuring hug and told her I was going to the restroom and would be right back. But of instead of going to the men’s room I got on an elevator and pressed the button to go to the top floor.

Once the door closed, with clenched fists of rage against my head, I had a meltdown. Fortunately, it was not a busy time, and I was able to ride the elevator up and down several times without someone else getting on while I cried out my sadness and anger.

It was on one of the trips up and down the elevator that I started thinking about what this depressing place needed was a place to “let it out” in private. In fact, all cancer centers need a place to go when patients and caregivers are feeling overwhelmed with anger and sadness — a soundproof room where you could scream your angry lungs out, with maybe some pillows or a punching bag to let out your anger on and a soft rug in the middle where you could collapse into the fetal position and let the tears flow. Someplace to just let all the pent-up emotions out. A little room for rage.

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