When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt everything else but angry. The anger came later — the weekend before my surgery — when I walked past a local cancer charity run.
Out of the blue, I suddenly exploded. The flood gates, the iron doors, reasoning and rationality, trust and self belief — none was strong enough to hold back the eruption of rage, anger, bitterness, hate and resentment.
The anger was bound to happen. The anger had to happen.
It had been six weeks since my cancer diagnosis. Two more days and I would finally be operated on, to be followed by chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. It all depended on the lymph nodes, so I was told.
I used the time to prepare emotionally, mentally and physically for the most challenging and terrifying time in my life.
I knew about fear and terror. And I knew I needed to be prepared to keep sane, resilient and manage the physical and emotional onslaught.
I prepared well:
• I closed down and sorted all areas of my life that otherwise would cause stress and anxiety (work, financial security and relationships).
• I was (and still am) working with an herbalist to boost my immune system and strengthen my liver.
• I crafted some rituals that would engage my senses and keep me calm and grounded.
• The theme of nature and being in touch with my senses started to run through it all:
Hear: Audio books, soundscapes, Tibetan singing bowls.
See: Colors, landscape pictures in form of bedspreads, blankets, cushions, postcards on my ceiling.
Smell: Incense oils and candles.
Touch: Things that I could touch, feel and cuddle.
I was in an OK enough space and ready to get things started. Then I walked past the local park where 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.
A separate community for the initiated. Slogans and names on their backs: “for mom,” “for my wife,” “for my sister,” “for me,.”
Their sweat and then, finally, my tears.
I cried. Of course, I had. I was still in shock and disbelief, but I also had to hold it together and get through this.
But this sudden, forceful and powerful confrontation with others’ determination and happiness was too much.
Finally, I combusted, and my anger about having cancer finally broke through.
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 really about my own issues. Everyone has their own story, personality, history, wounds, trauma and fears.
But the combined positive and inspirational energy of this event was in total contrast to my inner reality of fear and anger. I really didn’t want to be part of that community and that story. I had never asked to be part of a cancer community. I even 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. Self-pity does feel lonely.
Now, some years later, when I see people on a charity run, see names on their backs and see them being applauded and supported, I often feel a stab in the heart, 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.
Anger, rage and despair are normal, but it’s a dark place to get stuck in. We need to move through it the best way we can.
A version of this post originally appeared on Between Self and Doubt.
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