Actually I’m not mad, but I wanted to talk a little bit about cancer and anger. Anger is listed as the second of the five stages of grief, a hypothesis first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Now I should start by saying I have never read On Death and Dying. Honestly, I haven’t given much thought to these stages. I am familiar enough with the book to know that Kübler-Ross states that these stages are not meant to be complete or chronological. Her hypothesis also holds that not everyone who experiences a life-threatening or life-altering event feels all five of the responses, nor will everyone who does experience them in any particular order. For me, I went straight to anger and stayed there much longer than I would have liked.
I have met many people whose lives have been touched by mesothelioma cancer, and almost all have had to deal with anger in some form. For me, anger hit when my wife and I went to Boston for her treatment. Our orientation to the hospital’s mesothelioma program consisted of us and other patients in a conference room filled with doctors, nurses, and support personnel. Some of the first people we met were a priest, a pastor, and a social worker/grief counselor. I should have been comforted knowing the hospital had such a diverse and well rounded staff. Instead I was furious. I felt like everyone I was meeting was preparing me for my wife losing her battle with cancer. This was a possibility I just wasn’t ready to face.
My anger manifested itself by reducing me to a stream of language so foul that it embarrasses me just to think about it. I could have made even the most seasoned sailor blush. And to think this was in the presence of a priest and a pastor. Not a high point in my dealing with my wife’s mesothelioma diagnosis. Sooner or later most people have to deal with anger and, many times, that anger gets the best of you at least for a while.
I must admit that I had a bit of a “fiery” temper in my youth. This might have something to do with my red hair. Since then I have become more of an analytical person. I now usually use my scientific teachings to evaluate each situation and then weigh the risks and rewards. After evaluating the situation, I then make an informed decision and move forward. When my wife was first diagnosed with mesothelioma, we were presented with three choices for treatment. My wife was struck with disbelief at the diagnosis. She was unable to make any decisions in the moment and needed time for the news to sink in. Without missing a beat, I was able to make a decision and I said "get us to Boston". One of the best mesothelioma doctors, Dr. David Sugarbaker, is in Boston and it was where my wife was going to undergo the most drastic form of treatment available to her. This is more typical of how I handle tough situations.
When I was overwhelmed with anger, I lashed out at all who were around. I lashed out to people who were trying to help and I have seen this in others. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are trained to deal with anger in others. They had seen this before and I’m sure they have seen it since. This isn’t always the case. I bring this up because if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, be prepared to deal with anger. I won’t pretend to be knowledgeable enough to offer any sure fire solution to overcome your anger. For me it took some patient people and time. I needed to time to realize my anger was so strong that it inhibited my ability to make decisions. It pushed those away who were trying to help. I felt like I couldn’t get anything done when I was angry, and it took a lot out of me. In short, I hated how I felt when I was angry.
I was able to move beyond anger. I have gone back from time to time to visit, but I don’t stay long. Anger never brings out the best in us. I have met people who have dealt very well with anger and other who are still angry at the loss of a loved one almost a decade later. The people who are unable to get beyond anger are always unhappy and unpleasant to be around.
While there are many things about my wife’s cancer that I am angry about, I’m no longer consumed by this emotion. I have made a decision to live not in fear, but to treat each day as special, a gift. I also use my time and energy to work toward an asbestos free world and better treatments for mesothelioma. I find I am both happier and more productive now that I am no longer in anger’s grasp, and I hope that for all those who find themselves overwhelmed with anger, that they find a way to move on to a happier more productive emotion.