Dr M R Rajagopal,
Chairman, Pallium India
Diagnosed to have cancer, my husband underwent treatment and is now reasonably well, yet we all worry that the disease may come back any time. Our present major concern is that he is always angry and snaps at me and my children all the time. Sometimes we spend a whole day without talking to each other. Does cancer affect the mind?
Nanditha Haridas, Kozhikode
Think of yourself when you have a headache or a toothache? Does the pain make you irritable? Who do you show your irritability most to? Not to your boss in your office or to the policeman in the corner, I venture to guess. You are most likely to show it to your children or to your mother – whoever is safe for you. That is human nature.
In the case of your husband, his whole world has turned upside down. (So has yours). Possibly he is feeling tired all the time. It is natural that he would have fears and anxieties, which are many-fold worse than your toothache or headache. It is but natural that he would be irritable and angry.
When your husband displays anger, try to remember that his anger is really against cancer, his fate or against God. The cancer, fate or God is available physically to show anger to. It comes out against you and children.
Once you have understood this, it is possible to move towards a solution. Sit down with him when he is reasonably well, and initiate a conversation. Tell him you see that he is always worried and stressed. Ask him to share his feelings with you. When he does, please do not interrupt; you must patiently listen. Do not say meaningless things like, “Everything is going to be alright” or “Stop thinking about it.” Those are conversation stoppers. May be he will cry; it is alright to cry with him. It is important not to stop him if he talks about death. He may have real concerns about it and open discussion about it will help.
Palliative care professionals undergo training in communication skills in situations like this. It may be wise to consult one of them if you are unable to handle it yourself.
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