Cancer Anger and Reading Between the Lines

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Cancer is truly @#%^%# %#*$!, so go ahead and let the anger out!

cartoon drawing of Mark Hicks

I was cleaning up old bookmarks on my web browser last week and I came across a link to an article about research linking suppressed anger to certain cancers, including breast cancer. I think I bookmarked it while I was desperately researching any helpful information about my late wife’s breast cancer. I probably found it interesting because I don’t think my sweet and kind elementary school teacher wife was capable of openly expressing anger.

While the story does mention studies that show how suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, I’m not sure how much of a role that played in my wife’s disease. To be sarcastic, my wife died of cancer caused by “genetic information suppression.”

Actually, my wife’s triple-negative breast cancer was caused by a mutation in a BRCA2 gene. But her cancer and untimely death could have been prevented if relatives very aware of the mutation had spoken up and shared gene sequencing information. My wife should be a previvor just like our daughter, who also inherited the same BRCA2 mutation.

I know the research on the link between cancer and suppressed anger is limited. However, I hope there truly is some association between not suppressing anger and not getting cancer, because not expressing anger isn’t one of my problems. In fact, I have expressed my anger often in my blog articles here at CURE®.

But I really toned down those articles. Believe me, there was so much more I wanted to say about the awfulness of cancer and what happened to my wife. At one point, I actually wrote a 4-page rant where I explicitly spilled my heartbroken soul out. I used every expletive in the book as I unloaded on cancer, outdated HIPAA privacy laws, the horridness of cancer treatments, the cost of care, the trauma of caregiving and how hard it is for people to talk openly and honestly about the disease. I knew I wasn’t going to submit it for publication, but it sure felt good at the time to let my anger out.

When I was growing up, anger was considered a “bad” emotion and strongly discouraged. And sometimes discouraged, strangely enough, with anger. Fortunately, human emotional intelligence has evolved somewhat. But being truly human, and learning to appropriately acknowledge our feelings, including anger, is something a lot of us still struggle with.

Anger has a negative reputation when compared to other “positive” emotions. But anger can drive us to be aware of threats to ourselves and others, sharpen our focus and spur action. I know my anger, combined with my empathy and compassion, drives my hereditary cancer advocacy. I want to try and help others avoid the unbearable heartache and anger of losing a loved one to cancer, especially to a cancer that could have been prevented. And I think any healthy anger directed towards cancer is justified.

I know I’m not alone in my hostile feelings about cancer. As I read the blogs of my fellow contributors here, I sometimes see anger towards cancer expressed. Sometimes it is subtle, and sometimes it’s more pronounced. But more often, I read it between the lines.

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