Cancer, Anger, Fear, and Love

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • My annual oncology appointment was in the late afternoon, so I was sitting alone in the large waiting room when they came in.  The young man with a scraggly beard and long pony tail rising up from the crown of his shaved head paced back and forth in the tiny check-in cubicle while a tiny, little old lady sat in the chair.  I could hear his agitated voice from 50 feet away.


    "I've told them that I need more notice.  I have to arrange transportation to get her here.  Then I find out they called this morning."  He went on and on loudly complaining about the scheduling problems. 


    Eventually he led the lady to the nearest chair in the lobby and said sternly, "Mamaw, you sit right here now.  Don't move.  I'm going to get you a drink.  I'll be right back."

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    A few minutes later he was back, berating his grandmother.  "We've told you and told you, but you won't listen.  This is on you, Mamaw.  This is on you."  His anger filled the room, and the lady seemed to shrink even more in her chair.  I wanted someone to intervene and save her.  How could he be so disrespectful, embarrassing his grandmother in a public place?


    Then I heard a new note in his voice-love and fear mingled.  "I'm worried about you, Mamaw.  We just want you to get better, but you have to do what the doctors tell you."


    A few minutes later the nurse came from them, and I didn't see them again.


    The incident reminded me of the horror stories cancer patients like to tell about the stupidest or most hurtful words people have said to them.  Everybody with cancer has a story like this.  But watching the interactions of these two reminds me that human interactions are complex.


    I have no idea why this young man has the responsibility of getting his grandmother to her oncology appointments even though he apparently doesn't have easy access to transportation, but he was there making sure she sees the doctor.  His worry about his grandmother turns to anger that he takes out on the hospital clerk and on her, but it is impelled by love.


    Cancer is an emotional tornado.  I wish I could have given both the young man and the grandmother a hug and a promise that everything will be all right.  I wish that we could all see past the anger of the cancer experience to the fear that fuels it.  Then both patients and caretakers could feel the foundation of love that unites.

Published On: October 28, 2011