Finding Ways to Manage Helpless Anger

CURE, CURE® Spring 2021 Issue,

A caregiver recalls how an unexpected side effect of her daughter’s breast cancer treatment has caused her to experience feelings of helpless anger.

I know that cancer is a never-ending story; the gift that keeps on giving, and the (insert your cliché here). I have accepted that once I heard the words, “Mom, it’s cancer,” my life would change forever in reflection of my 27-year-old child’s diagnosis. I know things will go up and down, but today if I could, I would throw a hundred dishes against a wall, screaming at the top of my lungs. Because once again, just when she started to feel like herself, a cancer treatment side effect has come along to say …

“Hey, remember you had cancer?”

Adrienne has always had significant issues with her skin reverting to its infancy. We were very apprehensive of how it would react to the six weeks of radiation treatments she did back in January and February of 2020 and felt particularly blessed when the side effects were very minimal. Which is why I am so angry today that 11 months later, after all her treatments finished, she has been diagnosed with radiation recall dermatitis, which is an uncommon inflammatory reaction of the skin at the previous site of radiation.

Adrienne had a lot of uncommon things happen during radiation, some of which made us laugh out loud. Tubes came loose from machines in a way the technicians had never seen before. Her lips swelled up like a bad lip job in reaction to something on the mouthpiece and it was how we managed it, including ice packs strapped to her face with a headband that brought out the humor.

She found out only after going back for a recheck with the radiation oncologist a year later that there was a specific parking structure for the department and we had parked as far away as possible for every day of the six weeks of treatment. But when it came to side effects, both short and long term, in comparison with chemotherapy, we both came out of there thinking it had been a walk in the park.

The kicker is that it’s possible that the cancer-fighting hormonal treatment Soltamox (tamoxifen) she’s taking to prevent recurrence could be the culprit that initiated the skin reaction she’s having now and coming off it is not an option. A dermatologist did a biopsy to make sure the diagnosis was accurate and has prescribed a more intensive cream to put on the affected areas to hopefully ease the discomfort.One more thing to add to the list of medical stuff she has to do that constantly reminds her she had cancer at 27.

I was recently reflecting on the grief cycle and how I wished with all my heart that it was linear, that you would go through the steps from beginning to end, one and done. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works, and I find that the one I get pulled back into most often is anger. I wish I could deny what is happening, but I don’t have that luxury because there are no alternative facts to explain the ongoing impact cancer is having on my daughter’s life.

Most of my life I have been able to take an objective look at a situation and tamp the reaction down to mild annoyance. But this type of anger comes on so fast and furious and I don’t seem to have time to look at it at all before I’m ready to punch a wall.

I’m not very good at dealing with this kind of helpless anger. If the world were not locked down, I think I would go to a thrift store and buy up all their random dishes and put them in a box for just such occasions. Walking has always been my go-to, but because it’s the dead of winter going for long walks in solitude right now could mean my nose freezes off and since malls are closed, mall-walking is out of the question. My family is also stuck at home with me so I have nowhere to go inside to simply stand there and scream at the top of my lungs about how unfair this is, about how she did nothing to deserve it, that I just want it to be over for her. So, when I’m feeling like I’m going to explode, in a semblance of outward calm I put on my headphones, turn on my audiobook and clean or organize something.

Not just an obvious something, but one of those chores you put off because “nobody sees it anyway.”Like lying on the floor cleaning the baseboards under the counters. Or using a toothbrush to get out those little bits of something that accumulate in the hinges of things. Or pulling out family photos and writing down on the back of the pictures the who, where, when for future generations. Anything to put the Genie back in the bottle for a few more moments of peace.

How often does this happen, you ask?Right now, we have the cleanest house in town.

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