Reacting to a Cancer Diagnosis

by Donna Capps

Hi all,

I am new to this group, as my husband, Ron, only 47, was diagnosed on July 20, 2005 and had surgery on August 1 to remove a single 4.8 cm gist with about 15%of  his stomach. (They found gall stones when the CT was done, so they took both out at the same time.)   It has been a tough few weeks, on both of us, both individually and as a couple. I have spent a lot of time in tears lately (totally unlike  me.)  Then I feel guilty for feeling sorry for myself, when it is not me that is sick.  I have had to "get a grip", too.  This diagnosis first had us stunned and somewhat in shock. The surgery has left both of us exhausted, emotionally drained.  Things may never be exactly they same again, but I am determined to find the "new normal" that I have been told exists out there.
Ron and I are, among other things, volunteer firefighter/EMT’s.  Part of our EMT training course dealt with "emotional aspects of emergency care" — in other words, dealing with patients and their families who are in a death and/or dying situation.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have to be applying this training and knowledge to my husband, at least not for many years. Being diagnosed with a GIST puts a family in a whole new category, since there is such unpredictability with GIST.  I  have never seen the
stages listed here,  so I thought it might help   As I can tell you from the last 6 weeks, not everyone goes through all of these stages in the same way or order.  Some may even skip a step.
They are:

 1  Denial (Not me)   A defense mechanism that allows people to feel there must be a mistake in the diagnosis.  A denial of facts, even with overwhelming evidence, can make a person hard to deal with. 
 2.  Anger (Why me?)    People may become angry and take it out on those closest to them. Others must be tolerant and patient and not become defensive.  (After I originally wrote this, someone wrote me back and said that she was asked "why not you?")
 3.   Bargaining ( OK, but  first…)  Asking for a "little more time" to feel good, finish goals, etc.
 4.  Depression (OK, but I haven’t….)   After realizing bargaining won’t work, despair may set in.  People think of all the things they won’t get to do.  They may be silent and retreat into their own world. 
 5. Acceptance ( OK, I am not  afraid I will be fine and handle it all).  At this point, people make peace with their situation.  They accept what is ahead and are prepared to deal with it.

Sometimes family and friends may require more emotional support than the patient.  Not everyone moves through these stages in the same way, order or time frame.  Some people skip around or skip over stages.  Some people make up their own stages, too!!

On the outside, Ron tried to go from 1 straight to 5.  Let me tell you, it  didn’t work.  I knew he was being unrealistic in his expectations  of his post-surgical recovery (immediate and complete recovery, back to  normal  in 2-3  weeks.)  He refused to believe he would be weak and tire easily and tried  to prove it by doing too much, too soon.  It sent him  into #2.  He has been nasty and short tempered in general and he has been taking it out on me…big time. The wife/EMT side of me is very understanding and compassionate and has  been trying to take the "crap" he  is throwing at me by not taking it personally or losing my  temper.  It is NOT easy, but I know he is really mad at his own body.

Trying to do too much caused him a trip back to the ER to get fluids for dehydration, and finally he "let go" and broke down with the ER doctor, realizing (admitting) he is into #2.  When I got to the ER. he acknowledged  how he has been acting and apologized for his behavior, telling me how much he did appreciate me and that I have been going through it "with" him.   I believe we can now avoid the antidepressants (for both of us).  Today, he woke up and said he has a "new attitude".  I think we are truly  into #5 and I am looking forward to it!!

After I originally wrote this, I received some GREAT advice.  I have been told to LET people help when they offer (hard for me to do).  I have been told to vent and whine and even get away from the situation when I need to.  Most of all, I have been told to keep talking to each other, about anything and everything, being honest with my feelings, but staying calm if he vents (hard to do, when he gets nasty to me).  I have been told to tell him to say anything he needs to and to listen without trying to "fix it".  It is about HIM, now…

They say knowledge is power.  I hope this helps!!!