I am not an angry person. Anyone who knows me would say this is true, but of course, I certainly get angry from time to time. Who doesn’t? Sometimes anger is a bit misunderstood in Cancerland. It’s one of those “forbidden” emotions, which is silly because why wouldn’t receiving a cancer diagnosis (or having a loved one receive one) make a person angry from time to time?
When I first received the call from the doctor delivering the news of my diagnosis matter-of-factly as if letting me know I had an ear infection or strep throat, I admit it. I was shocked and then I was angry.
I was angry cancer “picked” me. I was angry breast cancer still existed. I was angry at my mother for not being here when I needed her and yes, I was angry she didn’t get cancer until she was in her seventies. I was angry to be diagnosed decades younger, as if getting cancer at a later age is better. It’s not. I was angry for putting my family through cancer again and so soon. I was angry for losing control of my health, my plans and my life in general. I was angry cancer interrupted the smoothness of my life, for butting in where it did not belong.
So yes, I was angry for these and lots of other reasons too.
Often times people with cancer feel guilty for not “doing cancer right.” They feel guilty for not feeling positive and may even wrongly feel this lack of positivity affects their cancer outcome. It doesn’t. They feel guilty for whatever it is they might really be feeling that doesn’t fit the mold of “proper cancer behavior.” They often feel, well, angry.
Well, guess what?
It’s okay to feel your anger, in fact, it might even be necessary.
Anger, just like any emotion, is not good or bad in and of itself. Feeling angry can be a perfectly reasonable emotion for a person with cancer to be feeling, just not all the time, of course. Anger can provide a means to vent and let off steam. For some, it might even be essential to feel anger in order to process through the messiness of cancer.
Yes, anger can sometimes be a necessary, even useful emotion. It can be a great motivator. Just like I always told my students, it’s okay to feel angry. It’s what you decide to do with your anger that matters.
Anger is like a pot of boiling water on the stove.
First, the water starts off at a slow simmer with gentle bubbles gurgling, creating just a little heat and steam. As the temperature builds, the water becomes hotter. As it reaches its boiling point, it becomes powerful, even dangerous with its scalding temps and vaporizing steam. If the boiling continues, eventually the water disappears and you end up with nothing but an empty, burnt ill-smelling pot.
Anger, too, can simmer, intensify and finally boil over if you try to keep it in or covered up. Just like the “boiled out” pot on the stove, concealed or covered-up anger can eventually leave you feeling empty, burned out and able to accomplish little.
This is why it’s important to allow yourself to feel all your emotions, even anger.
Purposefully channeled anger can be a great motivator. Use yours to fight back in your own way, not someone else’s way. Let yourself feel your anger and harness its energy to accomplish things.
So, if you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with cancer, allow yourself (or them) to feel all their emotions, including anger. Figure out (or help them figure out) a way to use it in a constructive way. It might take a while to figure something out, but you will.
I am not an angry person, but I do get angry sometimes.
These days what makes me angry about cancer is hearing news that yet another friend was diagnosed with mets. And another, also with mets, was hospitalized and still another ended up in ICU with chemo complications. I get angry when I hear about organizations proclaiming their mission is to eliminate cancer and yet they are allocating less than 10% of donated dollars to research and less than 5% to metastatic cancer research. I get angry when the focus continues to be on breast cancer awareness and pink ribbon shopping nonsense. I get frustrated when well-meaning people don’t take time to question.
Mostly, I get angry when people I know and people I don’t know keep dying from metastatic breast cancer.
Yes, I still get angry from time to time. When I do, I do what I always do, I write about it.
What do YOU do?
What makes/made you angry about cancer?
How do you channel your anger?
Have you felt guilty for feeling angry?