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Chemo anger directed at spouse

Just struggling. My husband has been diagnosed with esphageal cancer. We waited four months to begin treatment and we agreed I would keep track of scheduling of mds appts etc. he has read nothing the clinic has sent to him. Refuses to take phone calls and will not take any advice unless the onc nurse wrote it down ie take boost He fully supported and encouraged this because he is an introvert. Literally Hours after his first chemo, it’s like a switch was flipped. Suddenly he is unleashing anger and hatred at me. Very vicious comments directed at me, told me I was not to be involved in his treatment, he won’t talk to me about any part of it. When asked if he needs anything he begins again calling me names, swearing at me, mocking me by calling me doc etc. i have stepped back and have left him to deal with this but am always available if needed. He has also quit smoking and drinking and has stated all the things he enjoys ( smoking and drinking)can’t happen so what kind of life is that. He’s showing some weird behaviours like rearranging my cupboards, he contacted the truck dealers and has decided to buy a new truck ( not happening), he’s informed me he’s moving out of the house to a cabin on our property weird things like that. he has told me not to talk to his doctor or attend any meetings etc. he has totally cut me out of anything to do with his diagnosis. Has anyone had experience with this total personality change? Do I go to the doctor and explain this? Just really looking for some guidance about how to deal with this. I am resigned that my marriage will end, it was shaky but we never wavered in our love to each other.

10 Replies
8442 Posts

@Heavy heart im so sorry. I dealt with a similar situation. I cared for my fiance who had esophageal cancer. Complete personality change after diagnosis. We were so happy BC (before cancer .) AD,(after diagnoses) not so much. He was angry , depressed, lashed out at me, and would often say 'you're my fiance not my doctor. '. His whole life was smoking and drinking. He did not even quit these habits during treatment, or after surgery. Absolutely keep his health care team aware of everything. The anger could be a side effect of one of the chemo meds possibly, or could be depression or both. It could even be lack of nourishment. Esophageal cancer is a tough one, and many people cant eat much with this diagnosis. If the health care team is aware, they can tweak the drugs or give him something for the depression. The dietitian at the cancer center can advise on foods and calorie intake….he would sometimes not even let me come in to some of the appointments. I found out later he was trying to protect me from all the bad news that kept coming. Whatever the reason, you need open communication back. I found it helpful to talk to the cancer center social worker. Would he be willing? Mine absolutely was not, but I went for myself, so I could get coping strategies. I learned to take care of myself too, and set boundaries with his behaviour. What is his treatment plan is he is able to eat? Please keep us updated on how things are going!

9 Posts

@Heavy heart

My brother had the same diagnosis. At first he was good but when his treatments didn't work he also exhibited strange behavior. We were told it's because it attacked his adrenal glands but wasn't diagnosed at first appointments. As well the lack of nutrition being absorbed affected his day today balances. Just try to keep plugging along but don't take it personally. Take care of you. Talk to the cancer support for yourself. Keep yourself healthy. Cancer is a horrible disease that affects everyone differently. Not knowing the whole dynamics my first thought is the doctors need to know his behaviors have changed. He may never seek help needed but you need Tobe healthy too. Prayers to you. Keep up the good work. One day at a time

Runner Girl
2730 Posts

@Heavy heart

I'm sorry your husband is lashing out. Has he been put on dexamethasone with his chemo?

This is a steroid used to lessen the side effects of chemo. It can provoke anger issues, particularly in men. Please mention this shift to his oncologist.

I'm going to tag @ACH2015 as I think he can contribute to this conversation.

Runner Girl

Yes he is taking that the day before, of and after the chemo. I knew that could be a factor as it can affect your emotions.

thanks for these suggestions. He is eating, although not much. I stock the house with thing he likes but he isn’t eating them. I offer to cook, he says he will do it himself. I think he needs to still feel like he can do things so I just step back. I make food, offer it he declines yet later in the day/week I notice he has eaten it. I believe it is depression coupled with meds. I makes sure I step back, have my army network to support me and take time to do self care. I appreciate your feeedback.

2301 Posts

@Heavy heart , sorry to hear of this situation. Very difficult to put up with.

I think @Runner Girl tagged me (thank you!) with that question about steroids being part of the treatment plan. I had to take steroids in conjunction with my treatment, and it affected my personality - and not for the better. If this is not the case, your husband sounds like he is lashing out at you - because you are the closest person around to spout his frustrations. Again - not right and not good, and no excuses for it. Have you considered seeing a social worker at the hospital to relieve some of your stress? They are not there just for the patient. You may benefit from getting some issues out in the open and suggestions toward coping and perhaps having you husband get some one on one counseling or with you, for both of your benefits. Cancer is a scary thing, quitting habits you've done for a long time add to that frustration and people lashing out to those close by.

Get some counseling for you, and move forward in hopes your husband will as well. Do your best to keep the lines of communication open for both of your sake's.

Keep well


8442 Posts

@Heavy heart you have had some excellent advise. Yes I have heard that steroids can cause anger. My fiance did not have steroids in his treatment regime, and was still angry. But yes, inform his health care team and get to tbe bottom of this situation so thry can help . I wish you the best.

Cynthia Mac
3876 Posts
Heavy heart‍ , I, too, am sorry that you are experiencing this. Your husband’s reactions are everything I feared my Dad would end up doing, but thankfully didn’t. Dad had lung cancer.

The Dexamethasone does play with sleep patterns, and energy levels, for sure - often after his treatments I would find Dad doing housework in the middle of the night.

I do not care how ill a person is, they do not have permission to verbally (or physically) abuse a member of their health care team. You are an integral part of your husband’s health care team, whether or not he is willing to acknowledge that. Unfortunately, it is common for people to lash out at the people closest to them, because they feel this is “safe.” They KNOW that if they tried that on a nurse or doctor, they’d get into serious trouble.

It sounds as though you are dealing with addiction issues as well (smoking and drinking). Dad was a heavy smoker and a moderate drinker, too, and I can tell you that the lure of the substance(s) was great, indeed. The absence of them is, I suspect, also contributing to your husband’s moodiness. (BTW, Dad started smoking six weeks after his first chemo ended, and kept smoking right through the second round. He also kept drinking, and recruited siblings to keep that hush-hush. I only found out after he had a serious fall.)

I was raised not to be a tattletale, but there ARE times, and I think you are at one. Some of the declarations your husband is making could prove detrimental to his own safety. I would contact his medical team and level with them about all of this, even about the condition of your relationship at the time of diagnosis and your feelings of resignation.

I located a thread from back in February, where another partner was going through something similar. Perhaps you’ll be able to get some good information from it, too. Clink on the link in blue text. https://cancerconnection.ca/discussions/viewtopic/35/70918?post_id=374812#p374812

You are doing the very best you can do for your “patient.” Please take care of yourself and ensure your own safety.
8442 Posts

@Heavy heart id like to go back to tbe eating thing. You mentioned he wont eat certain things when you make them…etc. This could possibly be because with this type if cancer, many people experience pain when trying to swallow food. You could try cream soups, or anything super soft, puddings , yogurt, boost , ensure, even baby food. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the cancer center dietitian will be the best one to consult with in this situation. Thry can make a meal plan, based on his size and daily calorie intake. Weight loss is extremely common with esophageal cancer patients. This can be dangerous for him to lose too much weight, as he would be too weak for treatment and surgery. Keep us posted as to how things are going or if you have questions going forward.

27 Posts

@Heavy heart

I am so sorry you are going through this. Your post brought back many memories.I was the caregiver for my younger brother who had a brain tumour. At the beginning of his diagnosis there was surgery followed by radiation then chemo. We got through the radiation, the affects of it while not pleasant we managed. I know he was understandably frightened and frustrated but his personality changed when chemo was started.It was a nightmare. It was like the light switch was flipped. He was no longer able to work to help distract him,so his built up anger and rage got directed at me. I got screamed/ sworn at a lot.I understood why he was angry but that I was on the receiving end of it became so hurtful and frustrating and scary. I became so emotionally beaten. I finally went to see his social worker, curled up in a chair in her office one day,bawling. It was the best thing I could have done for both of us. I have no idea what she said to him, but things did get better. His team at the hospital closed in around him with even more support. I also had much needed support from the social worker.
Cancer itself can be so isolating but being a caregiver who’s being emotionally battered makes it even worse.
If you are able to reach out to a social worker, his Dr.even just for yourself, please do it, it might just save your sanity. Please let us know how you are doing, many of us have been through similar situations and we feel your pain. Cancer is hell!

Sending prayers your way


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