Healthy Living

“Cancer Anger” - An Explanation

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may be feeling angry about the manner in which the disease has disrupted your life. You may be feeling vulnerable, wondering “why did this have to happen to me?”.

“Cancer Anger” - An Explanation

Following a cancer diagnosis, it is normal to be overwhelmed with a lot of different emotions. Some individuals may feel shocked and frightened, while others may feel sad, guilty, or upset. There is no right way to feel.

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Although it is impossible to anticipate a reaction to a cancer diagnosis, anger is considered to be one of the first emotional responses an individual experiences after having received the news. Dubbed “cancer anger”, this emotion is a natural response to fear, distress, and helplessness. It can develop at any time during any stage of the illness, during treatment, and even years into survivorship.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may be feeling angry about the manner in which the disease has disrupted your life. You may be feeling vulnerable, wondering “why did this have to happen to me?”. You may even be upset about the way your family members and friends reacted to the diagnosis. Additionally, some of the symptoms of cancer and treatment-related side effects, such as nausea and pain, can lead to feelings of frustration, irritability, and aggression on occasion.

As an emotion, anger is considered to be ‘bad’. For a majority of individuals living with cancer, the guilt of being angry can lead to social withdrawal, abuse of alcohol and drugs, or risk of harm to oneself and others. And not being able to express anger in healthy ways can lead to depression.  

Yet, like any other emotion, anger is something that you need to feel now and then. When expressed in a safe and positive way, it can help you to address issues and to change things in your life for the better. You just need to find a coping method that suits you.

Avoiding destructive responses and learning valuable coping skills

The best way to cope with anger is to acknowledge its presence and to find a healthy way to release it. When you find yourself feeling angry, it is important that you:

  • Recognize your anger;
  • Do not wait for your anger to accumulate to the point of a breakdown;
  • Avoid taking your anger out of others, but rather direct it at the cause of your emotions;
  • Do not let your anger disguise other emotions that you may be finding difficult to express;
  • Explore a safe way to express your anger, such as talk therapy, physical activity, music or art therapy, relaxation techniques, and more;
  • Consider consulting, either one-on-one sessions or group sessions;

When you are in a crisis and it feels like your whole world has been turned upside down, traditional anger coping methods can be difficult to follow. For this reason, here are a few things to consider and others to try out – depending on your individual situation:

  • Anger, especially in cases involving illness, does not arise because you are doing something wrong. It is a human emotion that is understandable when your life has been altered, causing you to experience loss of self-worth, meaning, and control.
  • You do not have to let anger turn you into a victim. Despite what your anger is trying to make you believe, you play an active role in making decisions for your life – no matter how long or short.
  • Receiving a cancer diagnosis is devastating. If you notice the anger then, try to acknowledge it and use the energy for your own good;
  • Going through cancer treatment is overwhelming. Bare in mind that the anger you may be feeling may be due to medication, surgeries, and therapies that are weakening you both physically and mentally. You may even experience chemo brain. That being said, avoid making any hasty decisions and reflect on what it is that you want to do.  
  • Take good care of yourself. Just because you have had to make adjustments to your life because of your diagnosis, this does not mean that you are surrendering yourself to cancer. You are merely taking charge of your life.
  • Manage your physical and mental energies. Cut down on commitments and tasks that are draining your energy and causing your stress.
  • Make sure that you have an adequate support network. Reach out to loved ones and cancer services for help, as appropriate. Share your thoughts and experiences on your journey to recovery.

Placing a stronger focus on the here and now

Unfortunately, the effects of cancer may not end with remission. After going through the side effects of cancer treatment and emotional responses like anxiety and loss of self-confidence, it is only natural that the traumatic experience will have left a mark on your life.  It’s not fair and you have every right to be mad. Your life will have changed; however, you may even find yourself feeling physically and mentally more capable of confronting your “cancer anger”. As a matter of fact, often times individuals tend to re-assess and change vital areas of their lives like home environments, careers, and relationships for the better.

Just the same, uncertainty over if or when cancer may recur can be discouraging, draining your physical and mental stamina. While this is understandable, it may also provide you with much-needed courage and a positive attitude to make the most of the time you have left in a more meaningful way.

Seeking meaning

Every individual wants to feel like their life has a purpose -- like there is some reason for their being on this planet. Some individuals find that in raising a family, while others find it in their work. The choice is yours and yours alone.

In cases of uncertainty, such as following a cancer diagnosis, it may be helpful for you reflect on your life and figure out for yourself what your purpose in life has been. Look for those things that have been of great significance to you and to those around you. It may not be easy, but as you let go of “cancer anger”, you make room for a deeper appreciation for what you have and willpower for what you still hope to attain.  

With recent medical advancements, your chances of living with cancer, as well as surviving beyond it, are better now than they have ever been before.