Saturday, January 29, 2011

Using the Anger

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
Psalm 37: 8

Survivors Teaching Students is a program of the National Ovarian Cancer Alliance. At this point, it’s part of half of the medical schools in the United States, with the goal of reaching every one of them in North America. Another goal is to take the message to those in nursing schools, because nurses often can see the whole person and have time to share information. Ideally, groups of four women—a facilitator and three presenters—speak of their experiences for an hour to third-year medical students about to enter their gynecology rounds. Time for questions follows the presentation, which also reviews the symptoms of this deadliest of women’s reproductive cancers and gives a human face to the disease.
            When Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine agreed to allow the program, I said, Sign me up! Along with half a dozen other women, I received training in telling my story—my symptoms, how I was diagnosed, what my treatment was, and where I am now—preferably in eight minutes or less.
            We’ve recently been invited to speak to two classes of future licensed practical nurses. It’s been a different kind of experience. The medical school students have been receptive, but our message doesn’t always seem to hit them very hard. The nurses-in-training, most of whom are women, many of them training for a second career, have stories of their own to share.
            One of the threads I notice among these women is anger. We who have cancer and those who love us are angry about many things, and justifiably so. The lack of a definitive test for ovarian cancer; the high cost of treatment and of insurance, which sometimes refuses to cover what we need; the unconscionable profits of the drug companies making the controlled poisons that have kept us alive; the petrochemical and agribusiness corporations that have poisoned our food supply and degraded the land; family members who perhaps put us at risk by their behavior when we were children; and the sometimes apparent indifference of medical people or family—it’s a wonder that we don’t self-combust.
We have a right to this righteous anger. The only problem is that anger alone doesn’t help. If it motivates us to write letters and circulate petitions, well and good. If we use it as fuel to tell others what we’ve learned about things medical, that’s terrific. But anger that simply smolders in us is corrosive and interferes with healing. We may need to journal our anger, giving it a voice; to do some serious weeding in the garden to expend it usefully; or to pray the imprecatory psalms, the ones that shock us with calls for vengeance. Every person’s anger will manifest differently, and recur to be dealt with again. Anger is a side effect that we need to channel for good rather than letting it eat our joy or infect those we love.

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