PUBLISHED ON: 27 June 2019

Karin was surprised at feeling angry after her diagnosis. She describes why she’s glad it came out, and gives her tips on managing it.

Karin sitting on a bench

I thought I had prepared myself well for treatment

The flood gates, the iron gates of reasoning and rationality, of trust and self-belief – none were strong enough to hold back the eruption of rage that I suddenly felt weeks after I was diagnosed.

It was bound to happen, and it had to happen. Now, I am glad it did.

It had been six weeks since my breast cancer diagnosis in 2012. Two more days and I would finally be operated on, to be followed by chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy, depending on whether cancer cells were present in my lymph nodes. And yes, they were.

I used the time to prepare emotionally, mentally and physically for the most challenging and terrifying time in my life. I knew that I needed to be prepared to stay sane, resilient and manage the physical and emotional onslaught.

I had prepared myself well. I was in an OK enough space and ready to get things started.

My anger caught me by surprise

Then, two 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. Slogans and names on their backs: for mum, for my wife, for my sister, for me...

Suddenly, I burst into tears.

Since my diagnosis I had cried, but I had also tried to hold it together to get through it all. But this sudden, forceful and powerful confrontation with other people’s determination and happiness was too much.

I finally combusted, and my cancer anger finally broke through.

It felt honest and overdue

It was not pretty, it was not dignified, it was irrational and ugly. But it did feel good! Honest and long overdue.

Of course, everything I felt about the runners was my own 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.

After anger I could finally make peace

Now 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. I am 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, so that we can make peace.

We are so much more than cancer

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 connect with that if the cancer anger is not standing in the way.

Now, if I ever feel that anger again, I remember these three things:

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.

Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist, writer and podcast host based in London. Find out more on her website

You can talk to someone who’s had a similar experience through our email and phone Someone Like Me Services. 

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