Cancer anger is common and understandable. There was one key moment when I felt it first. Over time I have learned to manage it.
We should not have to apologise for our cancer anger. It is something important to deal with and to let go off. But how?
When it happened to me, I suddenly exploded and my cancer anger poured out of me.
The flood gates, the iron gates, reasoning and rationality, trust and self belief – none was strong enough to hold back the eruption of rage, anger, bitterness, hate and resentment.
It was bound to happen, and it had to happen. Now I am glad it did.
It had been 6 weeks since my first breast cancer diagnosis in 2012.
Two more days and I would finally be operated on, to be followed by chemotherapy and / or radiotherapy. It all depended on whether cancer cells were present in my lymph nodes. And yes, they were.
I had used the time, which in hindsight looks vast and begs the question ‘why’, to prepare emotionally, mentally and physically for the most challenging and terrifying time in my life.
I know about fear and terror, and my capacity to be anxious. And I knew, I needed to be prepared to keep sane, resilient and manage the physical and emotional onslaught.
I had prepared well:
- Closed down and sorted most areas of my life, which otherwise would cause stress and anxiety (eg work, finances and relationships).
- Boosted my immune system and strengthened my liver.
- Crafted some rituals and routines, that would engage my senses and keep me calm and grounded.
- The theme of nature was and is running through it all. Because that is how I operate best.
Hear: Audio books, soundscapes, tibetan singing bowls
See: Colours and landscape pictures in form of bedspreads, blankets, cushions, post cards on my ceiling
Smell: Incense oils and candles
Touch: Things that I could touch and feel and cuddle
I was in an OK enough space and ready to get things started.
Then, 2 days before my operation, I walked past the local park.
A cancer charity run was under way.
Lots of people (mostly women) in pink. Loudspeakers blasting out encouragement. Banter and laughter, happiness and pride, togetherness and strength in numbers. A separate society for the initiated. Slogans and names on their backs: for mum, for my wife, for my sister, for me, for ….
Their sweat and then finally my tears.
Since the diagnosis I had cried, of course I had. I was still in shock and disbelief, but I also had to hold it together to get through this.
But this sudden, forceful and powerful confrontation with others’ determination and happiness was too much.
I finally combusted, and my cancer anger finally broke through.
It was not pretty, it was not dignified, it was irrational and ugly. But it did feel good! Honest and long over-due.
Of course, everything I felt about the runners was my stuff. I know everyone has their own story, a wound, a trauma and fear.
But the combined positive and inspirational energy of this event was in total contrast to my inner reality of fear and cancer anger.
I really did not want to be part of that story. I had never asked to be part of that group. I hate running. Even if I loved it, I might never get the chance again.
And what’s more, I had no one to run for me.
Self pity does feel lonely.
Now, some years later
When I see people on cancer runs, see others’ names on their shirts, and I see them applauded and supported, then I often feel a stab in the heart and a lump in the throat and tears in my eyes.
I am no longer angry, well, not as much. But I am also humbled and touched.
Grief, resilience, determination and achievement can be side by side. Often we need to get the rage, anger and despair out of the way, first to make peace.
I still have moments of cancer anger and that will never change.
But there is so much more to us than cancer. And we can only truly (re-) connect with that, if the cancer anger is not in the way.
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