An emotion inevitable for those on the cancer rollercoaster is anger.
Anger manifests itself in many ways.
When we’re diagnosed with cancer, we may feel anger toward God. After all, He knew the cancer was there, so why didn’t He stop it growing? Why didn’t He allow the doctors to find it sooner?
We may express anger toward our medical teams for their “incompetent handling” of our disease. Don’t they realize they’re treating a person, not a text-book case?
We may feel angry at the family for their lack of understanding, or at friends for their insensitivity.
We may even be angry at the cancer itself, for disrupting our way of life.
Anger is not all bad.
It may be a source of power that will help us make decisions that bring about change.
Anger can also provide us with energy and strength to endure treatment that we might otherwise reject.
The key is to express the anger in healthy ways. If it is not expressed appropriately, we may bottle up the feelings, and that can lead to depression or other harmful moods. Some turn to alcohol or harmful drug use. If anger gets out of control, people get hurt. It is vital that we take steps to identify the anger–and find ways to deal with it in a constructive way.
Anger may bubble over at inappropriate times. The person may lash out in fury against random issues that don’t seem to have any relation to the problem at hand. I remember a time when I got into a rage because my son, who wasn’t even at home, hadn’t opened his curtains before going to college. I threw his door open against the bookcase, which caused an avalanche of books to slide to the floor. To top it all, the door bounced back and hit me–right on the site of my surgery. Trust me, I wasn’t a happy camper!
Anger in the face of cancer is normal. I can’t say that often enough. It is a part of the rollercoaster ride. One person will be more angry than the other. The triggers that cause the anger may differ from other people. But everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer is likely to feel anger at some point along the way. It is generally a response to fear, frustration or hurt feelings. Because we generally feel these are “not nice emotions” and “good people don’t feel that way,” we try to ignore the feelings, and bottle them up. The result is anger.
Christian Psychologist Gary J. Oliver calls anger a warning signal. Like the engine warning light on a car, it tells us something is wrong. Something, perhaps deep down inside, needs attention. Yes, it is an inevitable part of the cancer journey, but we need to understand its cause. The key is to figure out the triggers.
If you are on the receiving end of anger it can be frightening. It may make you want to lash out in response. But if you accept the anger for what it is–a normal part of the process–and look for ways to deal with it in a healthy way, you will move into a position where you can identify the fear, frustration or hurt behind the anger. It’s not easy to admit to fear, or to share your deepest hurts or frustrations. So take your time. But persevere.
The goal is to move from the place of anger to a place of calm where we can effectively communicate what is wrong on the inside. As you explore the background, the anger is likely to become more controllable and less destructive. If you don’t deal with these issues, the anger is likely to escalate and may cause further health problems along the road. No one enjoys being out of control. No one likes feeling anger and rage at those they love. No one wants to intentionally hurt those they love. And no one wants to stay angry.