I honor the millions who heroically battle cancer, determined to live life to its fullest and flip cancer the bird. Unfortunately, narcissists aren’t always among this valiant throng. Give a narcissist cancer (or any ailment) and he’ll exploit it to the max, making everyone’s life a micro-managed living Hell along the way. I know. I was there.
The year was 2002 and I was twenty-two. That’s the age many young folks graduate college and tentatively launch themselves into the great tide of Life. But I’d already been out there for two years and needed a safe harbor to moor for some much-needed TLC. You see, I knew something was wrong with how I reconnoitered life. It just shouldn’t be that painful and I shouldn’t be that vulnerable. So, I started studying psychology, trying to figure life out. And on a sunny Friday in October, I quit my job to get my shit together before mindfully restarting my career as a calmer, healthier me.
Backstory: I was held “hostage” by my deeply religious and narcissistic family ’til the age of 31, finally escaping five years ago. Please read my story here before judging me for this edgy article. Thanks!
Two days later, Dad was diagnosed with cancer. And it was bad. Doctors gave him one month to live.
Goodbye, self-care. Hello, Daddy-care!
Denial, Anger, Self-Obsession
Three things happened when Dad got his diagnosis:
- Denial: “Aw, those doctors are usually wrong,” Dad said, trying to comfort my sobbing Mother. “I betcha’ they’ll just find calcium deposits, not tumors.” Wrong, Daddy-O.
- Anger: When cancer was confirmed, Daddy was angry…mad…furious…at God. You see, we were the “good people.” Righteous. Superior. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t drink. We didn’t cuss. How could God do this to him!?!
- Self-Obsession: At last, Dad had a valid reason for being completely self-centered, selfish and domineering, getting his way in everything because of “cancer.” Fourteen years later, nothing has changed.
Click here to read my latest HuffPost article about narcissism!
Chemo and ‘Roid Rage
Narcissists are well-known for faking heart attacks or claiming imaginary ailments, so when a real one comes along….holy crap! It’s like a dream come true for them.
Putting my plans for self-care aside, I dedicated the next six months to caring for my father. I took him to innumerable CAT scans, PET scans and MRIs. Sat with him through most of his six-hour chemo sessions, smiling, chatting and cracking jokes the whole time in a codependent attempt to lighten the mood. Drove him to check-ups, appointments and the E.R.
But no one warned us about the psychological affects of chemo and its accompanying steroid, Prednisone.
Maybe it was ‘roid rage. Maybe it was because his blood sugar was off the charts…literally. Maybe it was the chemotherapy talking. All I know is that Dad got mean after chemo. He’d yell at me for anything…driving over a pothole, “not doing anything with my life,” or insist on rewriting my pathetic eHarmony profile.
I grinned and bore it.
Exploiting Cancer…to the max
Post-chemo, things got even worse. Where a normal parent might’ve said, “Honey, I’m sick, so don’t stick around. Go live your life and enjoy it to the maximum while you’re still young and healthy. Don’t wait for your bucket list. Do your living now! I’ll be okay.”
Naturally, Dad did the opposite. He did not pursue “bucket list” dreams. In fact, where before I’d enjoyed a few shreds of freedom, now my leash got shorter, my prison walls higher. And all because of cancer and his mono-focus on himself, his health, his organic diet, his herbs, his vitamins, his hot baths and his sleep patterns.
- Going anywhere after dusk was forbidden…because he “couldn’t chaperone” me anymore. (And dusk during a long Minnesota winter is 4 p.m., y’all!)
- Talking in a normal voice at home was forbidden…because he’s a light sleeper but refused to wear ear plugs at night.
- Soaking in a hot, relaxing bath was limited to two a year…because he had to have one every night and hot water is expensive. (Bucket baths were the best I got!)
- Using the bathroom at night was forbidden…because it woke him up. (Have you ever taken a shit in a bucket in your bedroom and then breathed that stink all night!?!) In an odd twist of fate, Mother retained her nighttime bathroom privileges while I lost mine. WTF!?
- Taking his wife to her medical appointments was delegated to me…because his employment was much more important than mine. (Yes, he’s worked full-time through all of his cancer treatments since 2002.)
- And he gave his boundary-less wife longer and longer To-Do lists of special foods to prepare for him and online cancer research to do until her health broke down. Only then did he lift a finger to care for himself.
Cancer became his hobby, his 24/7 obsession, his whole life. He exploited it…shamelessly.
Dad became convinced that his chronic “stress” had weakened his immune system, allowing cancer cells to get the upper hand. That’s probably true, but I believe there are many dynamics at play in the cancer epidemic, including SV-40, acidic pH balance of the body and out-of-whack sugar levels. Whatever the case, I think taking responsibility for his cancer gives Dad a sense of control. Control of his cancer. Control of the oncologists he argues with. Control of us.
Stress became his second obsession. He tried to control it but, unfortunately, in a teeth-gritted, I’m-Not-Gonna-Get-Stressful, Pink Elephant kind-of-a-way. But what he failed to realize is the cause of his stress: narcissism.
Last year, I tried to explain this to him through an obliquely-worded post on the cancer message board he haunts. I suggested that his “stress” is really a desperate need to control everyone in his sphere, to conform them to his will, to his “perfect” way of doing things. It starts in his family and extends out to everyone in his acquaintance. How many times did I watch him walk from garage to house at the end of a long, hard day, grimacing and gibbering with rage? Now that’s stress!
And for that post…he had me kicked off his message board as a “troll.”
Cancer and its first cousin, stress, became Dad’s overworked excuse for not doing what he didn’t want to do and his power-play for conforming others to his will.
If he doesn’t want to do something, he just plays the “cancer and stress” card. When he didn’t want to meet his new step-grandchildren, he invoked stress. “It would just be too stressful to meet them,” Mother lied…as if I hadn’t heard it a million times and wouldn’t see clear through it.
Frankly, I was shocked he even attended my wedding. As he wrote on his board, “My daughter rather suddenly and unexpectedly (at least for me) became engaged and we’ve been talking and planning for a wedding etc. Happy occasion but very distracting so I haven’t been on the Board for days.”
Yeah, days. I married nine days after revealing my secret engagement and Dad dictated I would marry on the day they’d already scheduled for visiting the relatives. Very distracting indeed!
Watching my husband gracefully cope with a terminal lung illness has shown me that an ill person can live a beautiful, unselfish life to the fullest…a lesson Dad has yet to learn.
Rejecting The Cures
For a man obsessed with finding the cure for his cancer, he sure doesn’t act like it! When he finally “found” my website, the one with the natural cancer cures listed, did he click on them? Nope! But he did go straight to his attorney to disinherit me. Hot coals, Daddy-O! Despite all your attempts to drive me bat-crap crazy, I’m still trying to help you.
Yep! Give a narcissist an ailment and then stand back and marvel at how they exploit it and you to the max.
I know. I was there.