The following is a chapter from my blog book, PTSD and Cancer: Lost, alone and afraid. I never experienced rage before and it scared me, really scared me.
May 5, 2009
In my recent posts, I write about the difficult times I am going through, difficult mentally and emotionally. The one thing the medical world could improve on is psychologically preparing the patient for post-treatment life.
Last Tuesday was a very tough mental and emotional day for me. The day started out fine but my afternoon was something I have never experienced before – rage.
The trigger for my rage was my daughter’s misplaced birthday present. We were gifting her with her great-grandmother’s cross necklace. I took my five-year anniversary diamond from my cross and had it mounted in Carrie’s cross. We bought a new chain and cleaned her diamond stud earrings. They were very nicely placed in a box. I hid my other daughter’s birthday gift in my night stand drawer but I thought since we were leaving on vacation, I better hide Carrie’s gift since she is a snoop. Last Tuesday when I looked for Carrie’s birthday gift, I couldn’t find it. I nearly tore the house apart.
I became so distraught that when I pulled out my night stand drawer for the third time, I threw things out with such force I broke a few CD cases in the process. I found plastic on the other side of the bedroom! At that point, I was so angry that I couldn’t remember – angry frustrated. I hated my cancer, I hated chemotherapy and what it has done to my memory and I hated my wavy hair because it represents cancer – I cried for one hour, not just a few tears but rageful tears. I have never been so emotionally angry in all my life. This was the second incident of rage anger I experienced within the month. I knew something was very upside down.
The next day, I called my social worker and asked to see her. We met and she reintroduced to me the concept of grief and the cycles of grief. I heard about this before but I didn’t think too much about it. As she spoke it began to make sense and yes, I was going through the process of grief. I lost something and life will not be the same. I need to grieve what I lost and accept that life will not be the same.
Karen, my social worker, and I looked at a diagram of the cycle of grief. The first cycle is “denial.” I thought to myself, I accepted the news I had cancer, I didn’t go into “denial”. We found a place to treat me, we went and lived there for seven and a half months and in February I was restaged as cancer free. I faced all of that head on, had a great attitude and fought a valiant battle.
As I was driving home, I thought about denial and the reality hit me, I am in denial.
I went to the internet and googgled “cycles of grief” and eventually I came to a web site that described me. It was from VCU Massey Cancer Center, http://www.massey.vcu.edu/experiencing-grief.htm . The article was on cancer survivors and grief. I read the article, “Experiencing Grief.” It defined the cycles and had a paragraph on the symptoms of grief.
After reading this article, I realized I was grieving and I am in the first cycle, denial. (However, I have experienced a few other cycles like anger and depression and sadness, too.)
I jumped from 2007 to 2009, pretending 2008 never happened. Since returning home, I don’t want to think about 2008 and all that the year represents. In 2009, I am pretending I am the same person I was in 2007 and there is an intentionally forgotten gap in my life.
I ran as fast as I could from 2008, my memories are more of a blur. I knew I had to get well and I had to do everything possible to get well. Once I was well, 2008 was no more.
As I sat quietly to think about this, it made sense. I hated having cancer. I tried to forget the fact I had cancer. I was treated with all kinds of frightening therapies, I fought for my life and when it was over, I doubted the phrase “cancer free”.
I will not accept the word “survivor”. Survivor of what? And, most of all, I cannot accept the reality that life is truly uncertain. I will not accept anything to do with cancer because 2008 never did happen and anyway, I am not supposed to get cancer!
Since that realization, daily I try to allow myself to look backwards and give myself permission to experience my emotions surrounding 2008. I did have cancer, I am now cancer free, I am a survivor, and, yes, I have wavy hair that I have to get used to. This will be a gradual, sinking in process.
I will probably experience all of the cycles one by one or combined. I have to move towards acceptance. The last cycle of grief is acceptance. The article states, “Acceptance is a stage in which you have accepted the cancer diagnosis and are at a point where cancer has been incorporated as part of your life.” At this point, I just can’t imagine that is the direction I must go, to accept my cancer and how my life has changed because of it. Life is certainly unpredictable.
It was reassuring to read the information from VCU Massey. They sponsor an annual symposium discussing survivorship. I read a survivor’s story and because of her story, I knew it was okay to look backwards and grieve. She grieved and finally through her processing she was able to accept her cancer and incorporate it into her life. She now calls herself a survivor and is actually proud of it. Maybe one day I can call myself a survivor, too.