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Angry Teens and Parents With Cancer

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One of the things that accompany cancer is anger- a patient who is angry with God for giving them the disease, a spouse angry at themselves because cancer is the one thing they couldn’t protect their loved one from, or a child angry at their parent for being sick. In my family, this last form of anger was very prominent.

We have always been a tight-knit family. Even after my parents divorced, we still spend holidays together and everyone gets along. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, however, things changed. I was the one who was curious about chemo treatments and what all the little holes in Mom were for. I wanted to be a part of it all and know what was happening. I think this is because I was 13 and didn’t really understand what exactly all of it meant.

My sister, Katie, was the one who became very angry at my mom. She couldn’t talk to or even look at her for weeks. She’d come home from school and head straight for her room and only make the occasional appearance for dinner or if she had a question. Katie has always been my best friend, but even I couldn’t understand what was wrong. Being 17 at the time, Katie knew exactly what could happen to our mother. She knew why Mom was bald, why she looked so tired, and why people stared at her when we went to the grocery store. Katie felt every staring eye piercing through her at every moment, and she was mad. She was mad because Mom was sick; mad that she couldn’t make our lunches anymore; mad that all Mom did was sleep all the time. Katie was mad because she felt like she had already lost the woman she loved most and she wasn’t ready for it. Mom had always promised she would never leave us until we were ready, and Katie thought she was going to break her promise.

My mom and sister had a huge breakdown in the dressing room at Target. They had just gone on a mini shopping trip to get Mom out of the house for a while. Katie was still so angry and my mom finally said, “Katie stop it. What is going on?” My sister broke down and told Mom everything she was feeling- why she was mad, how she felt alone, and more than anything, how terrified she was that Mom was going to die. That was it- the root of Katie’s anger was fear.

This is why it is ok to be angry, because underneath it all is fear. If you’re angry at your mom or dad, or if your child is angry at you, consider it a good thing. It’s because you are a strong family surrounded and held together by love. It’s easier to tell yourself that you’re angry rather than admit you’re afraid. It’s basic human nature.

I know I’ve said this before, but my parents waited two weeks to tell Katie and me that Mom had breast cancer. On the surface, we were angry that they didn’t tell us right away. Did they not trust us? Did they think we couldn’t handle the truth? That we weren’t mature enough? This is where the anger started. Underneath it all, however, was the fact that two weeks had passed and they didn’t have our support. It was two weeks that we couldn’t fight the disease together, as a family. It was two more weeks that Mom and Dad were scared without us there to help.

It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to cry and yell. It’s ok to feel selfish and not understand and feel like you’re losing the most important person in your life. All it means is that you love them. But you have to tell them how you feel. For their health and your sanity, you have got to tell them. That’s how you make it through.