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My father has colon cancer. What's the best way to deal with his angry outbursts?

11 answers | Last updated: Aug 25, 2014
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Q
A fellow caregiver asked...
My 82-year-old father, who is battling lymphoma, has become very irritable and frustrated and often lashes out at me. It's very upsetting, and it's making me question whether I can continue to help care for him. How do I deal with this?
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Caring.com User - Bonnie Bajorek Daneker
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Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone...
93% helpful

It might help you to know that there are all sorts of things that may be making your father act like this: pain, nausea, depression -- he may even be See also:
Defining Your Role as a Cancer Caregiver

See all 804 questions about Cancer
in an altered state because of chemicals in his system from radiation or chemo. It's possible he may not even know what he's saying or how he's saying it.

Chances are, he's really hurting and he's taking his pain and discomfort out on you. In other words, it's not about you -- it's about him and how awful he feels. Of course, that doesn't make his outbursts okay. And you have to find ways to cope, or you won't be able to continue to care for him.

If you have siblings or anyone else sharing care for your father who is also receiving abuse, it really helps to commiserate with each other. My sister and I used to use baseball terminology and ask each other each day, "So, which ball got thrown at you today? Was it a curve ball or a line drive?" It helps to get it out in the open and talk about it so it's not as personal and you don't feel so hurt.

Another strategy that works well is to give yourself permission to leave the room at any time. You don't have to continue the conversation if it's getting unpleasant. Not only do you give each other some space to cool down, you prevent yourself from reacting and making the situation worse. And you send a signal that you don't want to be talked to like that.

When you come back into the room, start a distraction. Turn on the TV or radio so the focus isn't on the two of you anymore. Or while you're out of the room, call a friend or family member from your cell phone and ask them to call your parent or drop by. This gives your father the opportunity to talk about something else, which can break the vicious cycle of complaints and griping.

You probably have days when you're asking yourself, "Why do I want to care for him? I'm not getting anything out of this. Why should I put up with being treated like this?" When you feel this way, get someone else involved. Have someone take over for a day and give yourself a break.

If you don't have a friend or family member you can call, this is when you want to consider bringing in some paid help, such as a home care nurse or nursing assistant -- at least once in a while. You may also need to enlist a social worker or oncology nurse at the hospital for guidance. It won't serve your long-term relationship with your parent if it deteriorates into abuse, so you may have to involve others to prevent that.

 

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octoman answered...

Well I have stomach cancer ,and find if I get angry it causes me pain maybe this is his problem I am only 79 but age is very frustating ,memory lapses clumslness ect are annoying.tell him losing his temper is counter productive.It makes things worse. He will feel worse. It is a kind of feeling sorry for self,which never helps. It will ruin his life. Get him to laugh at himself,and everything laughter is great medicine.Ho!ho!ho! Remember you are only old once, make the most of it. Crazy Ken

 

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lovelyday answered...

Having a double whammy handed to me. Breast Cancer then Lung Cancer, I actually know what your father is going through.

It's scary as heck being given a sentence of cancer and then having to endure treatment and sometimes the side effects that follow.

Doesn't matter whether the prognosis is good or bad, the thought of having cancer is scary at any age. It's our own fear of the unknown with this disease that makes some of us act out aggressively.

Had you or your father considered Hospice care? If his cancer warrants it and if his insurance covers Hospice and the doctors agree Hospice would be good for him (in most cases they also allow you to live at home) It maybe worth a inquiry into it. My brother was the same way until he allowed my sister in law to call in Hospice before he came home from the last time he was hospitalized. I am so glad he did. There is no way she could have cared for him as he progressively worsen, all alone and he did seem to calm down a bit too.

If Hospice is out of the question....then you may have to walk away until he is done ranting. Because he is ill does not mean you have to take his abusive behaviors. Tell him you will not have any more conversations with him until he can learn how to handle his emotional outburst.

Keeping you both in my thoughts and prayers.

 

75% helpful
octoman answered...

Lovelyday You do no not seem to be having one. I am the angry man type my self when I lost faith my doctor I had to face my cancer alone scary.but luckily I soon found getting angry was no help.information was what I needed the internet is a great source.Seek and you will find,I soon found I had chosen the right path for me. I hope you are in good hands that are loving and caring.because I some doctors are not. they can be as stupid and thoughtless as anyone else.

 

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lovelyday answered...

@Octoman

"Lovelyday You do no not seem to be having one"

I do hope I did not infer I was having a bad day when I made my post to Anonamous...I definitely wasn't.

My answer to Anonymous...was a thought as to why her father maybe acting aggressively which may not even be any where near the reasons for his behavior.

I know that when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was angry, scared and frightened all at the same time. Those three emotional feelings, all rolled into one big emotion, can bring out the beast in us.

He's treatments for Lymphoma may also be part to play in his behavior changes as well as his age and it may be time to have a chat with his doctors.

I am very fortunate to have doctors who genuinely care about me as a whole individual and not just a cancer patient. Some people are not as fortunate and that is truly a very sad situation to find oneself in.

I too have learned that certain behaviors can be more detrimental to ourselves than the disease. As with anything in life, living with a serious disease is all about finding a comfort zone that works well for us.

I do hope that you will have a full recovery very soon. Please keep that humor rolling right on.

 

100% helpful
lovelyday answered...

@Octoman

"Lovelyday You do no not seem to be having one"

I do hope I did not infer I was having a bad day when I made my post to Anonamous...I definitely wasn't.

My answer to Anonymous...was a thought as to why her father maybe acting aggressively which may not even be any where near the reasons for his behavior.

I know that when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was angry, scared and frightened all at the same time. Those three emotional feelings, all rolled into one big emotion, can bring out the beast in us.

He's treatments for Lymphoma may also be part to play in his behavior changes as well as his age and it may be time to have a chat with his doctors.

I am very fortunate to have doctors who genuinely care about me as a whole individual and not just a cancer patient. Some people are not as fortunate and that is truly a very sad situation to find oneself in.

I too have learned that certain behaviors can be more detrimental to ourselves than the disease. As with anything in life, living with a serious disease is all about finding a comfort zone that works well for us.

I do hope that you will have a full recovery very soon. Please keep that humor rolling right on.

 

octoman answered...

Lovelyday Sorry I did misunderstand you,the double whammy,was not nice and the treatment is usually very unpleasant, so I just assummed you were not having too good a time of things, I watched Farrah Fawetts film of her suffering,and saw you being very brave,but having intelligent doctors is a great boon I see intelligence and caring going together,my surgeon and oncologist were stupid sort of
keystone cops,clowns even. As my present surgeon has now,from reading their notes discovered,he appears to be inteligent which I am about to find out.awaiting my next appointment.

 

83% helpful
colby76 answered...

I myself am 44 yrs. old and was diagnosed with colon cancer. I had surgery and chemotherapy. I always thought of myself as invinsible and was really just never scared of anything life could throw at me, boy was I wrong. I was in denial even after surgery and chemo, I think I was just so scared and didn't how to deal with this emotion that I became mean to the people that care about me. I don't think anyone can understand what us as survivors have gone through and are still going through. I'm not a religious person but I thank god for my family that never gave up on me even after I'd given up. I still have my bad days and cry when I'm alone but they're getting further in between. Be as patient as possible because we are just scared. I'm a single male who keeps his thoughts and emotions to himself but you will have to find someone to talk to, it was my sisters for me but you will need someone.

 

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An anonymous caregiver answered...

Give the guy a break....didn't anybody think to mention that failing or stressed mental and emotional faculties or chemotherapy might be responsible for these outbursts? Don't be a doormat, but a little understanding is certainly in order.

 

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An anonymous caregiver answered...

Cancer is a very scary thing and there is no way for any of us that has not personnally been diagnoised to understand the depth of that fear and the pain of the disease or the treatment but I do truly believe that it's in the way you handle it. My Sister was diagnoised stage 4 colon cancer last June. She had no one so my husband and I moved her in with us & our 85 year old Father that was already living with us. I found her the best facitiliy in the city that would take her in on a very small disability check, went through all the red tape to get a grant for her care & treatment and took time away from work & my obligations at home to be with her for her treatments even though she was the most evil person to everyone that came into contact with her, including the wonderful staffers at the cancer center that were trying to help. (By the way, I can not say enough about the nurses and doctors that deal with this everyday, they are awesome and do not get near the credit that they deserve and take a ton of abuse from patients). She lashed/es out at everyone, including anyone that simply asked her to please step on the scale to get her weight or asked her to verify her birthday. I'm sorry, there is absolutely no excuse for acting that way. When my Father was diagnosed stage 4 lung cancer in December, he went to the same facility for his treatment and was one of thier favorite patients. He loved it, looked so forward to going to Chemo, just to get the attention from all the nurses that loved him right back just as much. He looked at the whole process as it was going to make him better and wanted to actually go more than he was scheduled. He passed 6 days after the doctor told him he Chemo would no longer be an option. My sister laid around whinning with her pitty party, Dad wanted to go every day, see people do things and he never had a minutes problem with it other than hair loss. Now, understand, I realize that each treatment is different but I know (unfortunately) enough people that have had to deal with this horrible disease to be able to say....the ones that face/faced it head on and kept a good attitude had a much easier time than those that blamed the world because they have/had it. If/when more than likely, given my family history, I am diagnosed I pray to God everyday, now, that I am one of the strong ones and that if my life has to end, I live what is left of it and not lay down an surcome to it. Easy for me to say now but I've seen the difference.

 

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lucky2too answered...

My 90 year old Dad recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. I had the honor and privilege of caring for him and my mom who has dementia. Dad had frequent angry outbursts. I found that if I commiserated with him (wow, dad I can tell you're really angry) and then I used distraction. (what kind of vegetable would you like for dinner or how do you spell....) Every day I was with my dad was a gift from God.

 

 
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