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Illness and Anger, or: I Took a Trip to Cancerland and All I Got Was This Bottled-Up Rage

Posted Sep 07 2008 8:10pm

Because I only see my family, at best, three or four times a year, I am often surprised by my reactions to things they say and do when I am around them. This applies to mainly to how I deal with my parents and respond to their questions about the state of my health.

I am most aware of my reactions to enquiries about my health when I am with my parents because they are two of the only people in the world who actually say things like How is your health? When did you last go to the doctor? How are your blood counts? When do you go again?

My reaction to these questions? Burning hot, bile-inducing, fist-clenching, lip-blanching rage. Which I promptly swallow with the intention of answering these well-meaning questions as a civilized adult, rather than as a feral child.

I have had lots of practise saying things like Having a cancer diagnosis makes me angry. It makes me mad that cancer has taken things away from me. I feel furious and helpless in the face of cancer. But when I say these things, I am generally saying them not out of anger, but out of sadness. My emotions are disconnected from my words; it is as though my lines have been crossed.

But when a well-meaning person, such as my parents or a rarely-seen friend or acquaintance, asks me about my health, I become livid. You know the phrase "blind with rage"? I do become blind with rage, if only for a minute. My face becomes hot, my throat constricts, I can't focus my eyes properly, and all I want to do is scream and scream and scream and scream and scream.

But I don't. Because that would be crazy.

This is what cancer does to you. I imagine this is what many serious illnesses do to you. I'm not mad that people ask me these questions, I'm mad that they need to be asked at all. I'm mad that cancer has made the status of my health a matter of which people feel the right to ask about -- I find the lack of privacy galling. Yet I don't want people to forget that I was ill. But I don't particularly want them bringing it up. Or maybe I want them to bring it up in other ways. Why is that people will ask about blood test results, but won't ask how I am coping emotionally?

You know what I would really like? I would like to go out into the woods*, row into the middle of a lake, and scream so loud that crows fly out of the trees on shore. In the middle of a lake, voices carry. Those screams would expand and fill the air around the lake, and maybe they would even be big enough for all the anger I have inside me. And maybe once I let it out, it would just be gone. I can't think of any other way of letting this anger out. I can't take it out on others -- this anger isn't their fault -- but I don't know that it is a good idea to keep it in. If only there was a place where I could buy an argument, just like in that Monty Python sketch. Then at least I could rip someone to shreds without feeling guilty for it. And maybe feel better in the end.

*I'd like to bring so many of you with me as well -- Spike, Cancerbaby, Rae, Jen, Jeannette,Babybaby, Lori -- could you imagine the sound of our screaming?

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