The emotional roller-coaster ride of a cancer diagnosis can rapidly take you through a swarm of intense emotions, adding stress to an already stressful situation. Learning to deal with your emotions is vital.
Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are simply indicators of where we are at in our lives and should be used as motivators for change. Anger at your situation can be used positively to encourage you to change the way you live your life and to be more caring of you. Anger can also be used negatively to push family members away and isolate yourself. The more you look at, understand and work with your emotions, the more you will take control of your situation.
It is normal to feel angry when facing a cancer diagnosis. It is a reaction to the unfairness of what has happened and the unjust loss of lifestyle. Your anger may be directed at the cancer, God, the medical profession, friends, loved ones or at yourself. You may feel or say things like “How dare this happen? I won’t allow it! It isn’t fair! Why now? Why me? I don’t deserve it. The doctor is to blame!” Anger can mask other feelings, like fear, panic and helplessness as it may be easier to feel anger than to admit “I cannot cope”.
Not everyone feels anger after a cancer diagnosis. It depends on coping mechanisms and personality. Some feel sadness, depression or guilt – and have to find ways to cope with those. For many people though, anger is part of the process of reaching acceptance and, to work through it, you need to express it and make a conscious decision to release it or channel it to where it will work for you.
I felt intense anger when I was diagnosed, I was 30 (too young), didn’t smoke or drink, and I exercised regularly (too healthy) – surely this was a mistake? Why me?
Was I being punished?
Once I started getting in touch with my anger, and expressing it to friends and family, I realised that I was angry at: the cancer; the loss of my life and goals; the change in how my friends, colleagues and family treated me; and the fact that I now had to face my own mortality. Each anger had to be faced individually, starting with identifying the reason for that anger, then moving through other emotions like grief and sadness before finally accepting where I was.
I decided to keep my anger towards the cancer and each day I did visualizations where I used my anger to dissolve the cancer cells in my body. Cancer wouldn’t get me, I would get it!
Regarding the loss of my life and goals and the change in how people treated me, I decided to accept that I was no longer the Old Bev, I was Bev with cancer. I allowed myself to mourn the loss of Old Bev and the future she had dreamt of. I let go of things I had taken for granted and stepped into a world of unknowns. Once I was comfortable doing this, much of the anger dissipated. Once you can take life one day at a time, you too will start feeling a sense of calm.
Facing death was huge! This anger and fear was incredibly difficult to work through. Chatting to friends helped me come to terms with it. One friend commented, “You have sorted out the dying thing, it’s time to get on with the living thing!”
Anger that is expressed is healthy, it allows you to be pro-active. Work through your emotions and, by doing so, you will free yourself to take control and to live life as fully as possible.
This is an excerpt, written by Bev Du Toit, from the Cancer Coping Kit, a free audio programme to help people overcome the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. To order your free copy of the Cancer Coping Kit contact CANSA 0800 22 66 22. The Cancer Coping Kit is available in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and seSotho.