Friday, October 24, 2008

Cancer Psycho

I recently saw an episode of the TV show, "Desperate Housewives". One of the characters has cancer and has just finished her chemotherapy treatment.

She gets home from the hospital one day and sees that a possum has ruined her garden. She freaks out, buys an air rifle and stands vigil at night, waiting to kill the little critter. When her husband tries to talk her into going back into the house, she screams at him, "This thing has invaded our home! I am NOT going to let it defeat me!" Of course, we all know she's talking about the cancer, not the possum.

This is something I'm not sure everyone surrounding a cancer patient understands. You'd think somebody battling cancer would have bigger things on her mind than a furry animal ruining her garden. But I know exactly why she went pycho about the possum.

I've had similar psycho moments, or moments when I've wanted to scream at somebody. Ants in the house, dishes coming out of the dishwasher with caked-on food still on them, kids running amok with nobody to enforce the rules, and so on. These everyday, seemingly petty things are more disturbing than the big looming threat of death by cancer.

Why? Because cancer is an abstract threat. It's something that I can't really control, so there's no point in throwing a hissy-fit about what those cancer cells are doing inside my body . But making sure my kids are learning to say "please" and "thank you", keeping my house in order so I know where everything is, simply being able to control what goes on under my own roof - these are things that I'm having to let go because I don't have the energy and strength to deal with them most of the time.

I can't drive anymore so I have to depend on the kindness of friends to help me with my errands. Luckily, I have no shortage of friends who are offering all sorts of help so I'm thankful for that at least. But every time I have to ask somebody for a ride to the hospital, every time I see that Toby's teeth or Josie's hair haven't been brushed, every time I see the floor in the kids' room littered with books and clothes with nobody around to reprimand them for it - all of these things are reminders that I'm losing control. I've become a lame-duck mother.

So those of you who are dealing with cancer patients, the next time that patient goes psycho over something that seems petty and meaningless to you, think about the possum.

I can't go after cancer with an air rifle, but I can hunt down a garden pest with one.


Anonymous said...

Inspiring. I have watched that episode of "Desperate Housewives". I admired Lynette Scavo and the way she stood up to fight the cancer. Just saw your story in the Chinese documentary, and I can't help but liken you to Lynette, but even braver and stronger.

Hongsy said...

Nice use of the word "abstract".
: )

Shin said...


Maybe it's the tumors in my brain... I don't get what you mean.

Regie said...

Hi Shin,

My mum has breast cancer and each time after her chemotherapy session, she gets agitated over every single little thing. As her caregiver, I am confused by her anger and at times, I'm hurt by her words. Now I finally understand her frustration and I feel quite ashamed of myself because I did lose my temper at her at times. Thanks for the valuable reminder and I will remember the possum when this happens again.

Shin said...


I'm so glad that this post of mine is going to help you and your mother.

You should know that some chemotherapy drugs and some of the other drugs they give to manage side-effects can cause irritability, stress, and tension. So your mother's behavior may actually be due to the medication.

You shouldn't feel so bad. Being a caregiver is extremely hard and frustrating. You want to help, but you're not sure how. And sometimes, anything you do seems to be wrong. I think it must be harder than being the patient.

Excuse the pun, but be patient with yourself. Be patient with the patient.