Health A to Z

Living with cancer when you're always angry

If you're constantly irritable and argumentative, and starting to alienate loved ones, you may need help to overcome it.

You’re battling a life-threatening disease, and anger in the face of that threat is natural, especially if you’ve tried to be healthy. You may be angry that you’ve got this disease. Or you’re mad that a friend you thought you could count on hasn’t called in weeks. Anger is a common emotion after a breast cancer diagnosis, says Toronto psychotherapist Mary Vachon, especially among young women whose physicians may take a wait-and-watch approach. That’s what incensed Carol Bond when she was diagnosed with the disease at 33. “I had a lump in my breast and my doctor told me not to worry about it,” recalls the now-60-year-old owner of New Woman Prosthetics & Apparel in Halifax. “But I had a nagging feeling about it so I went back to see him six times.” Another doctor finally diagnosed Bond a year later. “I was so angry that I’d had the cancer in my body for so long.”

How it helps: Like fear, anger can mobilize you to seek out the treatment you need, says Vachon. It also motivates some women to become advocates for breast cancer research.

When it harms: It’s not healthy if anger is your only emotion. If you’re constantly irritable and argumentative, and starting to alienate loved ones, you may need help to overcome it.

What you should do: Ask your doctor if there’s a social worker or psychotherapist specializing in cancer at your hospital. If not, get a referral to one. In the meantime, try asking yourself what your anger is trying to teach you, says Vachon. If your doctor was slow to diagnose, maybe you’re upset because you don’t feel like you communicated well with her. Think about how you can use your anger in a constructive way, for example, by talking to other women so they don’t take no for an answer from their doctors when they have a health concern.