Allowing Yourself to Feel Anger Towards Breast Cancer

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • When you were growing up, what were your behavior goals?

     

    Unless you had unusually progressive parents, they were probably the same goals all of us “nice girls” had: obedience, politeness, following the rules. Dressing in a particular way. Not using certain words.

     

    In short, we were taught to conform to a fairly rigid societal norm: that of the “good girl.”

    Maybe that’s why it’s so very difficult for many of us to express anger. It’s not difficult to feel it; it’s just hard to let it out.

     

    When you were told you had cancer, and your mind was shouting “NO WAY, UNFAIR, NOT ME!”, but your mouth was closed. You didn’t jump up and grab the doctor by the lapels of his white jacket and start shaking him, right? Instead, you probably sat quietly and wore a faint smile.

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    We were taught that doctors are important and deserve respect, so that means being pleasant in their presence, listening without interrupting as they speak. Keeping a stiff upper lip is what we do the best, isn’t it?

     

    But in the end, how well does that serve us?

    By burying your anger, you’re keeping it with you, where it can eviscerate your spirit just as surely as cancer eviscerates your body.

     

    When you’re in your third week of chemo, and you see your hair swirling down the drain at the bottom of the shower, what’s your reaction? Sadness, apprehension, embarrassment… and anger.

     

    When you’re sitting in the chemo chair, and the nurse is making her fourth painful attempt at finding a vein to pump those poisonous chemicals into, do you feel calm inside? Not unless you’re extremely skilled at meditation.

     

    Me, I felt angry at everyone and everything: at the doctor, for not recommending a port; at the nurse, for not getting the job done; at the needle, for being painful; and at myself, for having such uncooperative veins.

     

    Yet I smiled sympathetically at everyone around me, forcing my face into a frozen mask that wasn’t at all a reflection of what was going on inside my head. I buried the anger, and buried it and buried it some more, week after week, month after month, always the good girl, the model of feminine decorum.

     

    And in the end, when I realized my mistake, it was too late; all of that anger had finally eaten away at my spirit and turned me against myself. It had made me doubt my worth, and my strength.

    What if, early on, I had chosen to let go of the anger by forcing it out, giving it a voice? Though I’m not a person who’s used to ranting and raving, perhaps it would have served me well, during those long months of cancer treatment.

     

    Instead of smiling, and answering “I’m fine” anytime someone asked me how I was doing, what if I’d yelled “I’m doing awful! I feel like crap, I’m ugly as hell, everything hurts, and I can’t wait for this all to be over!”

     

    I’m sure I would have startled myself; and, depending on the audience, I might have hurt some feelings. But after YELLING that anger out of me, I’m betting I would have felt better: cleaner, calmer, stronger.


  • Now, when I’m angry at something or someone, I get into my car, close the door, find a quiet road to drive along, and shout out loud about what’s bothering me.

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    After awhile – lots of harsh, definitely unfeminine words, perhaps some tears – I run out of steam. I take some deep breaths, turn around, and drive home. I feel spent, but calm; the anger has dissipated, like fog on a hot morning.

     

    If you’re still being a “good girl,” I recommend this technique highly. Take it from me: it’s OK to be angry. And it’s also OK to give your anger a voice. Preferably a nice loud one.

Published On: August 08, 2006