Caring Currents

Ladies, Is a Grouchy Patient with Cancer or Another Illness Making You Miserable?

Last updated: Mar 08, 2010

Angry Face
Image by Piez used under the creative commons attribution license.

If so, you have plenty of company. Generally speaking, men don't handle illness well. Psychologists have lots of theories on this topic, having to do with men needing to be in control and all that, but when it comes right down to it, all we need to talk about here is the fact that many men make lousy, grouchy, and often ungrateful patients. And cancer, with it's complexities of understanding and treatments that can be almost as hard to endure as the disease, is not going to bring out the best in most people to begin with.

So when a man in your life has cancer, and you're running around and trying to understand medical-ese and dealing with doctors and cooking tempting meals and he's being - well, let's say it -- plain old mean -- what do you do? It's awfully hard to take. We're doing this out of love - is it too much to ask to feel loved while we do it?

This has been a hot topic among Caring.com members in recent weeks, and I've been happy to see the solace that women in this situation have been able to find by talking to others and discovering they're not alone. If you're taking care of someone with cancer or another illness who's cranky, snappish, or downright insulting, I'd suggest sharing with others here on our boards, or finding a local caregivers support group where you can talk about your feelings. Taking care of who's sick is hard enough -- doing so while being treated badly can be downright unbearable.

One reason it helps to share is that it makes it clear this is a widespread phenomenon. It's easy to feel like this is about you and your relationship. And that can really, really hurt. But would it help to know it might be more about the man you're taking care of hating being sick, hating being old, hating not being able to do things for himself? He's acting angry, frustrated and resentful, but maybe it's not you he feels that way about -- maybe it's the cancer or other illness itself he's angry at.

It's a fact that many men have difficulty handling the process of illness itself - the doctor visits, the jabs, the tests, the waiting rooms, the general poking and prodding. In an article aptly titled "Why Men are Babies" in Men's Health magazine, doctor T.E. Holt writes that men are such poor patients that they die in midlife in much greater numbers than women simply because they're so reluctant to see doctors and submit to screening tests that they don't.

There are also those who'd argue that this problem isn't limited to men who are ill. Author Jed Diamond hit the jackpot last year with a book called Irritable Male Syndrome. In it, he argues that midlife hormone changes can cause men to become depressed, irritable, and aggressive in ways that can make the women in their lives truly miserable. He provides lots of information and advice, some of it helpful, some not. But if you're taking care of a man in his 40s, 50s, or 60s and it seems like a mean, disrespectful person has appeared in place of the sweet, caring man you remember, you may find Diamond's perspective helpful.

Hearing other people's stories is one more way not to feel so alone.