The Survivor’s Nest – 5 Tips for Coping with Cancer Anger at Home

Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem. Virginia Satir
My post on coping with cancer anger opened up a wonderful discussion about constructively expressing our anger. Thank you to the many readers who shared their thoughts, comments and emails. You really made me think and you’ve inspired me to take the conversation one step further in today’s Survivor’s Nest post.
As much as expressing our cancer anger constructively is important, I don’t think it’s always the entire answer to making ourselves feel better. I’m sure we’ve all been in the situation of trying to express our anger, only to get back a blank or completely disinterested look on the other person’s face. Or worse, you are subjected to an argument over whether you have a right to your anger in the first place. My point is that we can’t expect that expressing our anger is always going to make us feel better. Although we should still say our piece, sometimes, no matter how much we vent, no one is listening.
So what else can we do to cope? l always return to my “soft place to land” theory. It’s a tough world out there, especially for the cancer survivor. Your home should envelope and calm you after a hard day at the office, be it your own or your oncologist’s. Here are five tips to make that a reality in your own home:
1. Family and/or really good friends: Nothing beats a shoulder to cry on or a nod that says, “I get it and, yes, that guy is a real jerk.” Empathy, sincerely given, is one of the greatest gifts of love. I can’t tell you how much I needed it during my worst days and still do. If your home is dysfunctional and not a loving and supportive place, ask yourself what you need to do about it. Peace in your home is pivotal to your good mental and emotional health.
2. Slow down and relax: When I’m angry or upset, I tend to throw myself into work. Because I do most of my work at home, that’s not a good thing. Continuing to move fast and furiously only stokes the flames. Instead, take a moment to breathe, do meditation or try guided imagery. Slowing down your cardiovascular system has real benefits, as discussed in Redford William’s book, Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health  (Amazon associates link.) I bet that title got your attention.
3. Pump up the creature comforts: Soothe yourself with the comforts of home. Having a hot cup of tea warms your insides and reduces tension. Spend some down time in a comfortable bed, curled up with a book or watching a favorite holiday movie. The key is to distract yourself from the irritations of the day by luxuriating in your nest.
4. Build in quiet time: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into arguments that I didn’t even know how I got into them. When you (or your loved ones) are irritable, it’s not easy to talk calmly about even ordinary things. If you’re feeling cancer anger, take a “time out.” One of the comments to Tuesday’s post was from Erika, who makes “a conscience effort to leave a room to collect myself and come back to talk with a clear head” when she is experiencing cancer anger. Erika is smart to find a quiet spot to take a few minutes to consciously collect herself.

5. Have fun:  The bananas sitting on our kitchen counter for several days were beginning to show their age. My husband mentioned banana bread more than once, and I nodded, but I doubted I had the time. Yesterday, I made myself take a work break and I was so glad I did. In addition to not feeling guilty about throwing away food, I enjoy baking and the smell was incredible. It was a small diversion from my working day, but it made all the difference in my mood. Try a family pajama night or take a yoga break. Just an afternoon or a few minutes of fun can diffuse anger’s sharp effects.

My biggest challenge at home is finding a balance between down time and work, without which I end up feeling angry and resentful. If you are experiencing cancer anger, I hope your home is a haven of comfort and security and I’d love to hear more about how you make that happen.

Survival > Existence,






Beth L. Gainer's picture

Anger and Environment

Debbie, these tips are excellent. It is so vital to have home be a place of peace rather than a place of chaos. When I was diagnosed and went through cancer treatment, it was unfortunately the latter. My then-husband wasn’t helpful, and there was plenty of strife between us. I started healing once we were separated, as I finally had peace of my own.


Debbie's picture

Peace in the Nest


You’re so right! As a decorator, I certainly believe that the physical environment is so important to our level of comfort and security in our home. But the importance of decor never trumps the importance of the people in the room.

Bravo to you for finding peace in your nest.

Survival > Existence,



Paula Pinto's picture


I hope you can help me. Although being aware that anger on cancer patients is normal and justified, my concern is when this anger is focused directly on to family members, namely 80 year old mother. My sister has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through surgery, not mastectomy, just removal of the tumor and glands. She’s presently going through 8 sessions of chemiotherapy. And it is exactly during this period that she will turn all her anger and frustration towards my mother. She didn’t have psicologist support and now refuses to go. How can we deal with such anger and agressivness and above all spare my mother as she has already this suffering because of my sister’s sate and also feeling helpless.
Your help or any advise would be much appreciated. Thank you


Debbie's picture

Get Professional Help & Reach out to Your Sister with Empathy

Hello Paula:

Please know that I feel for each member of your family during this very difficult time. Although it is completely understandable for your sister to have feelings of anger, it is not constructive to act “aggressively” toward other family members. If your 80-year old mother is not safe, you should remove her from the situation immediately.

That being said, if your sister won’t reach out for help, it’s up to you and your mother to do so. Please contact your sister’s doctors and cancer center for caregiver support. If there is a oncology social worker or psychologist on staff, make sure to talk to that person. Also, when you talk to your sister, avoid minimizing her treatment and feelings. Stay away from such words as “just” when talking about her treatment. Any surgery is a big deal to the person who had it and anyone who has been told “You have cancer” can be traumatized by the experience regardless of the level of treatment. Plus, chemotherapy is a huge undertaking, physically, mentally and emotionally. I know my anger was amplified when people minimized what I was going through.

I’m sure you’ve tried already, but keep talking empathically with your sister so she knows you are trying to understand how difficult this is for her. Really listen and let her tell you what she is feeling without judging. I knew my family and friends could never truly understand what I was going through, but when they tried and didn’t minimize my feelings my anger diminished and I didn’t feel so all alone.

I’m so glad you’ve reached out to me, but don’t stop there. If this situation is going to get any better for your family, you have to get input from the professionals. Besides going to your sister’s cancer center and calling her doctors, you can talk to a oncology social worker with Call them today at 800‑813‑HOPE (4673) or email them at

Blessings to your sister, mother and you. Please let me know how it goes.

Survival > Existence,



RitaE's picture

Cancer Anger

My brother is dying of stage 4 colon cancer after battling it with everything he could for three years. He has undergone chemo almost constantly for over three years, had several surgeries, and many procedures. He and his doctors have decided to discontinue treatment, as nothing was working any longer. My family is so sad, but my brother is furious. He seems to be dredging up every past injury and insult that has ever been done to him, and recites it all over and over, in front of his wife and four kids and whoever else will listen. He is especially taking out his anger and bitterness on our elderly parents. My sister and I are doing everything we can to try to be helpful and loving. We did not have an easy childhood with our father, but our mother was our saving grace. But my brother is saying awful things to her in particular. Is this anger normal in a terminal cancer patient? This is tearing our family apart, and I’m afraid it will kill my mom. I don’t want to confront my brother because he will be gone within the next several months, but we need help and don’t know where to turn.


Debbie's picture

Please Reach Out for Support

Dear RitaE:

I am deeply sorry for the situation your brother, you and your family are facing. I am not an expert in pallative care, but I agree completely that you need help. This is an awful situation and there is no reason you and your family should be struggling through it without professional guidance. Perhaps you can work with your sister-in-law to contact your brother’s cancer center. There should be oncology social workers and therapists on staff who can help you and the family work through this most difficult time.

You ask if this degree of anger is normal in a terminal cancer patient. The best answer I can give you is this: any reaction a patient has under these most difficult circumstances is normal for him (and I am sure he is not the only one to react this way to such a situation.) The bottom line is that the entire family needs support, guidance and information to help each of you through this. Please reach out immediately to your brother’s cancer center and don’t give up until you get the help you need.

I wish you all the best.



Harriet's picture

Supporting those with Cancer Anger

Debbie thank you and your readers so much for their honesty and for articulating how anger is impacting their relationships. I’m heartbroken that my loving, gentle, generous Dad has become a stranger, hurtful, aggressive and so single-mindedly driven in his demands that he careers around regardless now of anyone’s wishes but his own. When I try and reason with him, he tells me I don’t have cancer so will never understand. My mother is at her wits end and he no longer consults with her on anything as he sees her as obstructive. She’s trying so hard to act in his best interests so that he is not ‘overdoing it’ but he is is constantly snappy with her and brings up past hurts frequently. How can I help diffuse this? What can I do to help him? He is bullying his family and friends into complying with his plans and shouts over them if they try and talk him out of anything. He is has again started to visit his cancer center but continues to treat my mother disrespectfully and is wired, despite suffering from extreme fatigue. I’m encouraging them both to see a center councillor but I’m desperate to do or say something to help them break this state.


Debbie's picture

My Heart Aches for You & Your Family

Hello Harriet:

My heart aches for you and your family. The insidious nature of cancer is that it not only physically impacts the patient, but also emotionally affects the entire family. Your advice to your parents to seek counseling is wise, but that doesn’t mean you can make either of them go. The only one you can make do anything is you. Given your situtation, I would immediately make an appointment at the cancer center myself to seek out advice and support. Every one of you is hurting and your father is obviously very angry. I’m hopeful you can get the help you need if you reach out for it. I wish you many blessings.

Survival > Existence,



Barbara's picture

Breast Cancer and Anger

I am angry. I have had a really good day and I am excited about going away for a few days to run a half marathon and wham. Bloddy discharge and discomfort from my left breast. I had the right one removed last year due to triple negative breast cancer. Angry. Spitting tacks mad. I am weary and tired and angry because I feel like breast cancer has taken over my flippin life. I thought I would be over it all by now. Yippee. Yeah I know, I have the left breast removed next month. What angers me the most is that you cannot get a guarentee it wont come back. I hate cancer. I am meeting with my therapist tomorrow – I already warned them to warn him I am spitting tacks mad. Everyone says how brave and strong I am. Pfft. What I am is angry and tired and scared.


Debbie's picture

I Hear You!

Dear Barbara:

I hear you! You have every right to be angry and you have every right to be honest about it. I’m glad you’re meeting with a therapist. I did a year of therapy and found it to be the most important thing I did for myself. The best part was that I felt entirely able to tell her everything without concern for how she would take it (that includes being spitting mad.) We can’t and shouldn’t try to control our emotions (and we have no idea how long we’ll be mired in cancer.) All we can do is honor ourselves and stay connected to others who support us, whatever we are feeling. I wish you all the best and I hope you get to run that half marathon soon.

Survival > Existence,



Carolyn Hamala's picture

my husbands rage before cancer and just as bad after cancer dx

Hi, this is my first time to comment on your page. I was desperately looking for someone for my husband to talk to. Way before cancer he had a major rage problem that absolutely scares me so bad. He has hit me before the diagnoses of stage 4 cancer. Now even though his personality has changed and he is a lot easier to get along with most of the time. Once he gets angry over the simplist things that absolutely mean nothing he flies into a uncontrollable rage. He scares me so bad that I run into the bathroom and lock both doors. He was diagnosed as terminal with 3-12 months of life left. We are in 16 months now and possibly he may make it. The problem is he has NO SELF CONTROL AT THE TIME HE IS IN RAGE. I don’t know what to do. I walk around with stroke level blood pressure and he knows it. Nothing matters when he’s like this. The cancer has only made this worse. I want him to go talk to someone but I can’t find anyone. I am desperate because he needs help now..We live in Fort Worth Texas I am hoping and praying someone will be able to help me…. God Bless All of you…. Carolyn


Debbie's picture

Please Make Your Safety Your First Priority

Hi Carolyn. Thanks for writing and sharing your concerns. I know you’re worried about your husband and I agree that he needs help, but I have to say that I’m worried about you. If you’re hiding behind two locked doors when your husband rages, it’s obvious you fear for your safety. Rather than trying to find someone for your husband to talk to (and I suspect he might not cooperate anyway) I suggest you speak to someone about what’s going on with you. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or visit their site at The call is confidential, free and they can connect you with resources in your area. I would also try speaking to a counselor at your husband’s cancer center if possible.

I know you know you can’t fix your husband. The only person you can change is yourself. I hope you will make your own safety your first priority. Please look after yourself and your blood pressure. You’re no good to anyone if something happens to you.

Please take care of yourself and I wish you all the best.

Survival > Existence,


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