“Pain is good”, says the doctor. “We are killing nerve cells. Pain means it works”. And you know he is right. You are in war, a war with no rules. No jus ad bellum – the cancer does not consult the UN to wage a “just war”; no jus in bello – the cancer does not follow any rules to minimize pain and suffering. If you don’t kill it, it kills you. If you try to avoid chemo-pain, you will get tumour-pain.
But how do you explain this to your little one who asks his mother, while the doctor tries to explain the process, whether he will die of cancer? “Of course not”, she says. “Of course not”, you say. “Of course not”, the doctor says. The little one believes in you. The green ninjas are going to kill the cancer. The pain is part of the process. So is nausea, vomitting, loss of appetite (hence weight), atrophy, numbness – and a “uncomfortable” one at that – and sleep, sleep, sleep. Only to wake up to more nausea, with more dark circles under the eyes.
Google tells you that personality change is not an uncommon side effect of chemotherapy. It is called “chemo rage”: “Anger is a completely reasonable response to cancer and the many difficulties it brings. But for some people, their cancer treatment is accompanied by a sudden, uncharacteristic increase in irritability, angry outbursts, and even aggressive behaviour. This can be really alarming and upsetting for both the person going through cancer and their loved ones.”, writes a decent website.
The little one does not have chemo rage. He is too small to feel anger, or to name the feelings he experiences in those terms. But “the loved ones” the above excerpt refers to, and indeed “the loving ones”? What about the anger they experience? The rage that comes with helplessness, desperation?
Some say “don’t over-dramatize”. It is not only you. It is not only him. But you know that it is not only him. In fact, you have already witnessed several loved ones losing the battle. But losing your child? To this beast called neuroblastoma? A beast which targets only 1.1 percent of the kids according to the statistics of American Cancer Society?
“Don’t refer to him or his case to explain things”, they say. “Don’t use him as an excuse”! An excuse? What the f.ck are you talking about? That thing you call “excuse” is the backdrop to my life, even if vicariously. I work to distract myself. I write to vent out my frustration. I am doubly angry when someone hurts me, because anger is the wallpaper of my everyday life.
No, I don’t expect you to empathize with me – you can’t; I don’t expect you to treat me differently – it won’t help; I certainly don’t want you to pity me – it would an affront to our struggle, to what we have already achieved. If you really want to help, be silent. Don’t worry, anger does not make one blind or irrational. I don’t go around and look for someone to dump my anger. On the contrary… I avoid trouble, because I am already troubled.
I have chemo rage. Not because I receive chemotherapy – I wish I could in his stead – but because the first thing I see every morning when I go to the kitchen to prepare some coffee is this: