Cancer. Anger. Anxiety. Depression.
Ask your medical team if the cancer treatment you receive can trigger emotional change. Some medications have side effects of possible depression, anger or anxiety. It’s much easier to deal with these new emotions when you know where it’s coming from. In addition to medication, anger can arise from the process of menopause. You’re not crazy. You’re not a horrible person. Your body is used to a certain amount of estrogen and progesterone, and now that’s gone. It’s a triple-quadruple whammy: Chemo, surgeries, medication, menopause. (It’s enough to make you scream, isn’t it?)
Some say anger helps them through cancer. I’ve met some very angry people. Their anger may help them, but that doesn’t mean I need to be their target or audience for inappropriate dealings of their anger. I’m all for tying to understand frustration, and supporting others when we can. This coin has two sides: People encouraging each other. People practicing the life they want.
Having said this, when someone’s depressed, they cannot just turn on the switch to joy. It takes time and effort on everyone’s part. When I was diagnosed with cancer, in fact—with every change and every surgery (6) I found myself at the bottom of the emotional ladder. (Even if it was a new level, I’d be at the lowest rung of that level.) I’ve been a New Thought minister and know the ropes around positive thinking. But, some days I had to allow others to lift me, knowing I was being dark and miserable—and knowing at some level, someday I’d return to “me.” My mantra was often, “Trust. Float.” (We don’t float in water by fighting it. We float by relaxing into it.)
As I often point out, this isn’t about stuffing or internalizing emotions. If you’re angry, go ahead—swear at cancer, punch a pillow, cry, shake your fist at God. Do what feels good. Then, move out of anger. It will not serve you to stay there. But, if you’re angry, fearful or sad and you ignore it, you’re asking for trouble. Be present. Know how you feel. Only then can you make a shift to a better feeling. Even just by saying, “I want to feel better.” It’s like an alert to your body that you’re ready to shift gears. After making that announcement, you can continue with a list of (start with five) things for which you’re grateful. I covered my walls with shelf paper and used felt tips pens for my “Wall of Gratitude.” I knew I wouldn’t seek out a journal to read or write when I felt awful. This way it was in my constant view, and I’d get lost in it, reading and thinking, Yes! I really am grateful for that!
Lean into friends, family, neighbors, support groups, medical team, and counselors. Notice the support around you. I received incredible support from grocery store cashiers, and the general public. Not long after completing chemo, I was at Costco one night in December, buying one box of smoked salmon. That’s it. Nothing else. A woman in the line next to me pointed at me, and loud enough to cross the checkout lanes said, “YOU ROCK!” At first I smiled, “Thank you.” She said it again with emphasis. I teared up. She understood the absurdity. Costco. Night shopping. Christmas time. One item.
Cancer is often accompanied with feelings of isolation and loneliness, intensifying with anger. You may storm in and out anger during the few years of cancer treatment. It may continue after treatment is over. Many patients focus on getting back to “the way it was before.” It may happen, and if not, maybe the change in the long run will be spectacular. As you get fresh air, good sleep, exercise, and healthy food, you’re raising the bar for the new norm. If you need to, get angry. But direct it appropriately, and move on.
1-800-227-2345 English, Spanish, Asian and Pacific Languages. They also have a chat line.
1-800-4-cancer 1-800-422-6237 English, Spanish. They also have a chat line.