If you act with hostility when you have cancer, your demeanor changes for the worse. Your anger, created by fears, frustrations and disappointments will be taken out on others. The people closest to you will receive the brunt of your wrath and instead of the caring person you often were, you become moody and bitter.
One of the commonest concerns of people supporting you, when you respond with hostility focused outwards, is how to stop you taking your frustrations out on them. Typical statements from your spouse, partner or friends will be He/she keeps yelling at me, I've almost reached the end of my tether and How do I get the person I knew back?
Expressing anger in this way will threaten the positive relationships that give meaning to your life and that are strong allies in your fight against cancer.
If you become a withdrawn cancer patient you will retreat into yourself and it will become extremely hard to get through to you. While keeping quiet may seem a socially acceptable coping behavior, in fact it can be equally as torturous to people close to you. You create a similar torment as the hostile patient.
Ask anyone whose partner sulks whether they would prefer the silence or an all-out argument. They'd often prefer the argument; at least it clears the air. When you withdraw due to a cancer diagnosis you are not sulking in the traditional sense. You may be in a state of denial, in a state of mild shock or in a why me? phase. But the effect on those around you will be the same. It hurts when someone you love closes off from you for whatever reason. Whats more, it will do you no good to bottle up your emotions.
The serene cancer patient remains open and sociable and does not seem to become angry or frightened, ever. If this sounds like you, you will be seen as a perfect patient by your supporters and your medical team. Youll never complain, lose your temper or become emotionally distraught.
You may be this way by nature or you may have suddenly made a personality transition. Either way you may ultimately become a source of extreme frustration and despair for those people who love you because you will seem completely unphazed to the point of appearing not to care about your own life.
This may be the worst way of dealing with your diagnosis, because anger and other strong emotions have no opportunity of being vented and otherwise expressed and managed effectively. They could create stress, distress and possibly a state of physical and psychological imbalance in your system. Whats more, your apparent resignation to the disease might just be realized like a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Cancer patients bottle up their feelings for a number of reasons. Some believe that expressing feelings openly is undignified, embarrassing or inappropriate. Those around cancer patients sometimes react negatively when they express their emotions too.
People with cancer often remark that they are prevented by friends and family from expressing their concerns and inner feelings directly. While their supporters are sympathetic during the patients moments of sadness or helplessness, they can become uncomfortable and not be so supportive when the person expresses anger or frustration.
Ultimately, the expression and effective management of emotions is crucial for cancer patients so if you see yourself in the descriptions above, its important that you reconsider your current coping approach and find ways to express what you need to.
The author Phil Kerslake is a 6-time cancer survivor, the author of the 2006 book Life, Happiness & Cancer and a regular speaker to cancer support conferences worldwide. For more information on Phil, his book and his presentations, visit his website www.lifepaths.co.nz.