Feeling Angry after Surviving Breast Cancer . . .

This week I was told by my Cardiologist that my heart has not improved in a year from the damage done from chemo and Herceptin and most likely it won’t.  Then I was told that the reason I am coughing so hard, so much, and so long after an upper respiratory infection is that my lung lost its elasticity during radiation, and it takes a lot more energy to clear the lung.   I felt angry.

According to Dr. Phil McGraw,  “Anger is nothing more than a cover for hurt, frustration or fear or all three.”  Well, that made sense to me as to why I felt angry.   As far as my heart was concerned I felt hurt, was frustrated, and definitely fearful about the future.  I was so uninformed before breast cancer, I had absolutely no idea what it would mean to live as a survivor.  My images were of physically fit, smiling women running Marathons dressed in pink garb with glowing skin, white teeth, perky new breasts and thick long hair pulled back in a ponytail tied with a pink ribbon.  It looked so easy and almost inviting.

I am definitely not alone when I feel angry.  I’ve received countless emails recently from women who feel angry during and after treatment.  They are confused, hurt and feel guilty that they have these feelings.   Almost everyone says this in one form or another:  “I am so grateful to be alive, but yet I feel angry.” Here are some of their statements.    Perhaps you can relate to a few or many of them.

  • I feel really angry that I am the one who got the breast cancer
  • I have pity parties for myself and for what I have lost.  Sometimes my pity parties last for days.
  • I get angry at women who go around flaunting their cleavage especially in front of my husband
  • I miss my old pre-cancer life and feel angry about the loss
  • I cry over what I lost
  • I feel guilty that I lived and my friend (or family member) died of breast cancer
  • I hate how breast cancer left me with all the side effects that remain like Lymphedema, neuropathy, numbness in my breast, no low cut tops, cannot shave under my arms, heart damage, radiation damage, mouth sores, acid reflux, thinner hair and severe pain.
  • I get envious of people who live in a non-cancer world
  • I get angry that I had to quit my job
  • I get angry that I was fired during breast cancer treatments
  • I hate that a pain in my leg or a headache evokes panic of mets and that makes me angry.
  • I feel burdened by the weight of Survivorship like I should always be happy because I survived
  • I get angry at people who say ignorant things to me when they know nothing about breast cancer
  • I feel angry at the family and friends who abandoned me during treatment
  • I get tired of being an inspiration
  • I am angry that I have no sexual desire and feel bad for my husband
  • I get angry that the pink ribbons and pink parades left others thinking that because we lived and because our hair is back, we are fine.
  • I hate that I  never get done going to medical appointments.
  • I  really hate and feel mad that people think because I survived somehow I had the “good cancer”
  • I am angry that chemo stole my mind  and I cannot think clearly like before breast cancer.
  • I  hate feeling frequently detached from the rest of the world.
  • I am angry and tired of people having a quick fix for me when I am in panic mode about recurrence
  • I really hate it and get angry when people who still have estrogen and normal muscle mass (because I lost mine to estrogen-blockers, ovary removal and “chemopause”) say “I can show you how to exercise and lose weight.
  • I get angry when other people complain about really minor things because I had to face mortality head on
  • I feel very guilty for all of these feelings like it is wrong to even have them or admit them

Admitting that we have angry feelings is a huge step.  Of course, we celebrate that we survived.  But the reality is that survival is often at a cost.    So many women have so much to deal with physicially and emotionally after survival.  Some days you feel like jumping around and celebrating survival with pink pom poms.  Other days you feel like taking those pink pom poms and (fill in the blank…..).

When I was researching for this post, I found a very interesting article in Maclean’s, a Canadian Magazine about anger and breast cancer survivors:  http://www2.macleans.ca/2008/11/20/the-angry-breast-cancer-survivors/   Perhaps you will find it interesting as well.


  1. Yes anger I can so relate … I did not have BC but uterine cancer 12 years ago… I have Lymphedema in my left leg and now another problem has reared it’s ugly head called Lumbar Plexopathy… Never heard of it …. well neither had I till last week when I went to a neurologist to address the issues of severe pins and needles, numbness and weakness in my legs… He tells me that it is caused by the radiation causing scar tissue on the nerves in my pelvis and very very slowly these nerves have become less responsive.. There is no treatment and it can get worse … I already have problems walking and going up the stairs or walking on anything but flat ground.. I trip over nothing and fall over… So yes today I feel angry.. This was a side effect that I was never never told about.. Sometimes I feel that the cure has come at a high price especially with the prospect of my legs becoming weaker…. GGGGRRRRRR and yes I feel envious of those women running around with all there abilities in tact… I want my old body back!!!!

  2. WOW!!! Thank you… I didn’t realize that the feelings I had where anger. I needed this article. Thank you, maybe now I can start to really heal.

  3. As always Denise, a very interesting article. I remember my friend Susie suffering through so much after breast cancer treatment and trying not to complain — which she almost never did. I remember how excited she was to get her new “boob” and just had to show me, and then — had to show Uncle Ron too! I miss her. She was such a joy. I’m glad someone is finally paying attention to what you and other survivors go through and continue to go through probably for the rest of your life. That saying about walking in anothers shoes sure makes sense — we really never know how someone else feels or what they go through each and every day. Thanks for caring about me. Sooner or later I’ll get some answers. Until then, I’ll just stick it out. Love, Auntie M

  4. Denise, I am so sorry to hear this news but I am grateful that you shared it with us. It is perfectly normal to feel angry. Thank you for sharing this article because it explains so many of my own personal feelings of anger as well.

  5. I hope my comment is coherent — it’s 2:30 a.m. here and I’m so tired, but I had to leave a comment after reading your post! 😉

    I’m so sorry for this news, Denise.
    I think this is a great article and that it will help a lot of women who are struggling with their feelings.
    I know it has resonated with me. I can certainly relate to your feelings about the heart and lung news, though I wasn’t keen enough to identify them as angry feelings right off! And I had a hard time accepting that anger was one of my emotions because I felt like I wasn’t being a good patient/woman/etc.
    But in recent months I’ve also received many emails and comments like the long list you’ve included here and this was what it took to open my eyes and to accept my feelings for what they were. I have been struck by how many of us have some or many these feelings — and by how isolating they can be. I actually have a post in my drafts folder that I’ve been working on that echoes yours in so many ways. It even has a comment in there about the stereotypical image of a breast cancer survivor and how I was totally unprepared for what lay ahead of me because I bought into these images.
    I’ve felt an obligation to finish that post — until now. I think you’ve summed everything up better than I could and I’m glad you are using your voice to make people feel less alone. You are obviously helping many who feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts and feelings with you. I’m sure there are so many who will read your post and be thankful for it.
    I’m sorry for the lasting damage this disease and its treatments have left behind.
    Warmest wishes…

    • Thanks so much for your comment! It means a lot to me. I am glad our experiences
      mirror each other in the sense that the anger is real and is the experience of many
      others. Often, as you said, we don’t realize it as anger right away.
      I must say, since I’ve acknowledged my own anger, I am feeling slightly better. Just
      admitting those feelings helps!
      Thank you for contributing to this subject. . .I appreciate it so much and appreciate your
      blog as well! Denise

  6. Thanks to Helen for sharing your post with me and thanks to you for writing it. I am working through this myself and so far, it is the scariest part of my grief process.

    Fond regards to you,

  7. Thanks for this great post. I’m sure you could turn it into a book. I don’t get angry as much as I panic. I’m one of the fortunate ones not to get lymphodema, cording, heart problems or neuropathy. And yet I find myself waking up in the middle of the night on a regular basis begging God for my life so I can raise my children. Now that treatment is finished I am even more worried. I didn’t worry so much while I was on herceptin. It’s a waste of time feeling. So I PRAY

  8. I hate it when someone says their aunt, wife , grandma had cancer and had no side effects to chemo or radiation. When I ask what kind of cancer or chemo they had – have yet to get an answer. I hate the comparing. But I do feel that if they have no idea what type of cancer or chemo – or how many radiation treatments – were they really front row and center during the journey? heck no. A lot of suffering goes on behind closed doors so please stop comparing.
    Sorry Denise for your lungs. Maybe time will heal. Let’s pray it does. So sorry though

  9. I celebrate my Cancerversary in Nov. I decuded to check back in with this blog hoping to find answers, and I did.
    Thank you once again Denise for speaking exactly what I have been feeling. I am just plain out angry about all of it. Glad to know I am not the only one.
    I am currently struggling with my post-reconstruction body image. I call them my Frankenstien boobs. They are me, but yet not me. Same with my abominal scar, I just plain feel like Frankenstein, and people can’t or won’t understand.

    • Trisha, thanks for stopping back to see me! Oh yes, anger and I are great friends! You are not alone
      with your feelings! Just last evening I had a woman call her breasts “Frankenstein boobs”, too!
      And you are right, people who have not been there will never understand. But we do!!

      Feelings are increased around cancerversaries I have found. The anger does get better as time goes
      on. I’m not nearly as angry as I was last year.

      Thanks for commenting, Trisha, and sharing a little bit of your story!

  10. Even after 10 years you can still feel angry? I know I feel angry and don’t know why. I think it is because I’m tired of being the survivor, the courageous one. Fact is I had no choice but to do what I did. Everyday I see the scars. Reconstruction can’t even take cover those. I’m being treated for depression but I’m angry at all the “normal” people. I’m mad that they seem to have perfect little lives. I’m left with scars, no job, depression and pretending that I’m a hero when I’m really not.

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