What is cancer anger? When does it happen? Who gets it? And what can you do about it?
Cancer anger is a normal response to fear, despair and grief – a range of feelings which cancer brings into our lives. It can show as frustration, irritability, emotional withdrawal or aggression. You can feel it whether you have been diagnosed or you are a relative or friend. Cancer anger can happen at any stage of the illness, even years after treatment.
Traditional anger coping strategies can be hard to follow when we are in a crisis. Here are some general points to consider and others to try depending on your circumstances.
1. Cancer anger is human.
Cancer anger does not happen because you are doing something wrong.
It is an understandable emotion to have, when your life is changed forever or cut short, and you experience loss of meaning, identity, dignity, control. You may also feel more angry about areas of our life that have been a problem all along, e.g. relationships.
2. Your attitude matters.
Facing up to cancer does not need to turn you into a victim.
That’s what anger often tries to make us believe. Accept your anger and try acting on it constructively by finding ways of playing an active part in decisions that need to be taken for your life, however long or short.
3. Self care matters.
Making adjustments to your life because of cancer does not mean you are giving in to cancer.
It is an important way of taking charge. Cutting down on commitments, stress, work etc can be the smart thing to do, when you need to manage your emotional, mental and physical energies. Reach out to others and cancer services for help.
4. Cancer diagnosis.
A cancer diagnosis is traumatic.
Even if you are holding it together, you may have suffered a shock. If you notice the anger then, acknowledge it and try using the energy for your own good. Be proactively involved in making choices for your life.
5. Cancer treatment.
Going through cancer treatment is traumatic.
Medication, operations and therapies will weaken you physically, emotionally and mentally. Your judgment may be impaired and you may experience chemo brain (cognitive impairment), which limits the amount of information your brain can process. Then it is important not to make any rash decisions as a result of the anger you may feel. Reflect on what you may want to do. Talk it over with others, if you can.
6. In remission.
Even if you are in remission, you may feel cancer anger.
Cancer does not end with remission. Your life will have changed and the traumatic experience will have left its mark – through treatment side effects (e.g. fatigue, infertility) and emotional responses like anxiety, depression and loss of self confidence. It is easy to get stuck in any of these. Yet, you may also start to feel physically, emotionally and mentally stronger to face your anger.
Often people re-evaluate and change important areas of their lives like work, relationships and home environments. Uncertainty over if or when the cancer may return can utterly disheartening as well as giving courage to make the most of the time one has. Long-term planning is often swapped for a stronger focus on the here and now. You may develop a deeper appreciation for what you have and determination for what you still want to achieve.
7. When cancer returns.
When cancer returns then the burden is extra hard.
This can happen multiple times, indeed you may develop another cancer altogether. Physical, mental and emotional stamina is needed, yet also drains more quickly. You should definitely ensure you have an adequate support network in place (family, friends, emotional, physical and practical support services, as appropriate).
8. When cancer is terminal.
If your cancer diagnosis is terminal and you may have little time to live, feeling overwhelmed by grief and anger is understandable.
Giving in to your anger then can turn you into a passive observer, when your life is coming to an end.
For many this is not easy to face up to. Letting go of your anger can provide mental and emotional space and strength to prepare for the end of your life in a more peaceful and meaningful way.
You might also like 7 Steps towards making peace
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Need some advice? Submit your question to my #DearKarin advice column here. Karin Sieger BA (Hons), MA (PsychCouns), Reg. MBACP (Accred) is a therapist and writer. All rights reserved © Karin Sieger. Neither articles nor videos substitute medical advice or therapy.