Frustration - A Big Side Effect of Cancer

by Jane Ashley

Nowhere is frustration ever listed as a possible side effect of cancer, but as we all learn soon enough, frustration is a BIG side effect of cancer.
Frustration comes from all angles – from the diagnosis process to the waiting for treatment to begin to the crazy/stupid things people tell you to do to cure your cancer. So let’s look at frustration. My bet is that most of you have already experienced several of these frustrations.

A Hug Will Have To Do

Waiting for the diagnosis.

How long did it take for you to get your full diagnosis? I bet that the process was long and frustrating. From my first and only symptom to my final diagnosis of Stage IV rectal cancer, it took 3 ½ months. And then it was almost 3 weeks before my treatment began. My situation wasn’t unique or uncommon. Cancer is a complex disease. It takes many tests to learn the full extent of our cancer.

More waiting.

The waiting rooms are generally full. We’re waiting for our name to be called so we try to sit patiently, but inevitably, we have to wait. Whether it’s for chemo or radiation, circumstances beyond the control of the staff happen, and they fall behind. But, in actuality, it’s probably impossible for our providers to stay on schedule. Emergencies happen that must be handled. Sometimes, a patient has to be admitted to the hospital. Sometimes, their blood count is so low that they have to have a blood transfusion. Sometimes, there’s an equipment malfunction. Even though waiting is frustrating, most of us adjust to “life in the slow lane.”

We Wait

Hair loss.

Even though we’ve been prepared for possible hair loss, it’s very frustrating. Men seem to “rock” being bald, but us gals have grown up fixing our hair. And when it’s gone, we’re just frustrated and lost.

We can’t plan ahead.

It’s frustrating when we can’t plan ahead, especially if we are a person who is super organized or obsessive/compulsive about always being in control. Side effects from our treatments or our disease are so unpredictable it’s virtually impossible to plan for a family get-together or holiday event. Spare yourself the frustration and ask another family member to host your Thanksgiving or Christmas get-together.

Planning Ahead

So tired but just can’t sleep.

We all know that feeling. We’re exhausted from chemo, but sleep won’t come because of the steroids that we’ve gotten. Insomnia is about three times more common in cancer patients than the general population. Here are some of the reasons.

• Depression

• Treatment-induced menopause causes hot flashes or night sweats

• Untreated or under-treated pain

Gastro-intestinal upsets from chemo – gas/bloating/discomfort/diarrhea

• Anxiety – we can’t turn off that little voice in our heads that keeps saying “what if?”

Patient lashes out at their caregiver.

Ouch – this one is not only frustrating, but it also hurts. You, as the caregiver, are doing everything that you can to help your loved one feel better. Then suddenly, they lash out at you. Usually, it’s because they’re angry at the situation they’re in, and we’re an easy target because we’re right there. Irrational behavior might also be caused by their pain medication or the progression of their disease. The best thing is just walking out and pull yourself together. Hire someone to come in a couple of times a week to give you some respite time so that you don’t get burned out.

Counting Our Sheep

Your particular diagnosis.

Let’s face it – cancer doesn’t always pick a traditional part of our body. Many patients feel frustrated/embarrassed by their specific diagnosis. Examples include:
• A man diagnosed with breast cancer
• A non-smoker diagnosed with lung cancer
• Patients with rectal or anal cancer
• Patients with reproductive organ cancers such as testicular, penile, cervical or vulvar cancer
• Patients who have ostomies due to colon, rectal, or bladder cancer

Unable to perform simple tasks.

Patients who have been active may become quite frustrated when they can’t do simple things they used to do because of chemo-or-radiation-induced extreme fatigue. It’s frustrating to not be able to mow the lawn, wash the car, unable to keep up with the laundry or cook dinner every evening.

Friends who offer treatment advice or tell you about Aunt Susie’s cancer.

It’s exasperating to listen to well-meaning friends tell you that cancer doesn’t kill, it’s the chemo that will kill you. We also don’t need to hear about someone’s relative who died of the same type cancer that we have. The best answer might be, “I appreciate your concern, but I have total confidence in my medical team.”

Sexual intimacy.

Being intimate is comforting to some couples. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate when we have cancer, and that can be both frustrating and discouraging. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offers some helpful advice for couples who desire intimacy.
You may not have thought about frustration as being a side effect of cancer, but now that you’ve seen these examples, perhaps you’ll realize just how frustrating the diagnosis of cancer can be.

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