Does My Cancer Give Me a Pass at Patience?


When my grandmother passed, I noticed my aunt was ruder than usual, and I wondered if I was like that during my cancer experience... and if the pain I was going through excused that behavior.

Recently my grandmother passed away. She was 96 years old, and the last of her generation, alive, in our family. My aunt had been her major caretaker for the last 15 years and it was an arduous labor of love.

During the last week of my grandmother’s life, other family members were gathered back into the family circle to say goodbyes and make plans to fly out to New York for her wake and funeral. I had always been quite close with my aunt and confided in her and looked toward her nurturing love where it was absent from my own mother. So, when I got to the funeral home to see my aunt who had done all the prep work and had my grandmother with her in hospice care prior to her passing, I was not prepared for the sandpaper-esque emotional response she was having towards mostly everyone.

Understandably, she was under major distress and had the responsibility for taking on all the duties that are so emotionally draining with illness and, in this case, death. But the ensuing snappish responses towards me and others made me angry and feeling defensive.

I started to think back throughout my life and many of those years being in the midst of major anxiety, stress and distress due to my multiple battles with cancer. Is it OK to be rude to others because of what you are going through? Had I been?

Years ago, I think it was 2006, I was in the chemo treatment room in my oncology office, getting my infusion of paclitaxel for my second primary breast cancer and my fourth cancer battle. A man sat in the recliner next to me and he was visibly and audibly angry. His target became the nurse attending his IV. As he lashed out at her calling her incompetent, I saw her biting her lip and staring at him sternly but holding back because of her need to be professional.

I sat next to him, and my first thought was that he was such a horrible man, but then I thought a little more. This environment, that chair he reclined in, that little tv he was watching some game show on to pass the time, it wasn’t his choice. He didn’t want to be there, and more than that I believed he was scared.

I know I was frightened at first, but I had come to a place in my mind that this room was my safety nest. I was getting well in that room, and I liked that idea. It made me want to sit back in my chair and relax a little knowing this place was saving my life.

But I didn’t feel that way through what I call my “journey” all the time, and there were times where the nurse or doctor hurt me attempting to help. There were other times where I felt that my voice wasn’t being heard. That got me very upset, and I would suddenly spit out words meant to express my angst and frustration and I felt justifiably.

I think that it is never OK to lose your patience, but it’s unavoidable at times because our human response is very primal. When something isn’t right, we get annoyed. When we feel someone has hurt us, emotionally or physically, we lose our patience and get angry.

In a situation where it comes to our health, I think it’s OK to get mad if you know you are not being heard or handled by your medical team properly. Of course, there is a way to do it diplomatically, and that’s the catch. Sometimes we don’t take that breath before we blurt. We feel it, we say it. That that can be OK, too, at times if you can acknowledge what you did and why. If not, it’s important to apologize to that person it was directed at, at least explain why you responded the way you did.

My cousin went up to my aunt at the wake to pay his respects and introduce his girlfriend. My aunt had never really known him well, but he was doing what he could to be kind. He pronounced her name wrong, and she immediately went for the jugular, correcting him. He was embarrassed and quietly slipped away. His girlfriend had already preceded him.

I’m sure my aunt will never apologize for that or care to recognize it because it isn’t on her radar. That man in the chair yelling at that nurse didn’t apologize that day either and he didn’t explain why he was so vicious to the nurse.

I like to think that if we reflect a little more on those moments when we act not our best light because of a bigger situation like a death or an illness, we can free ourselves of the stress and unhealthy feeling it can leave us with. Impatience can cause pain for everyone. Acknowledging it can heal that pain.

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