How to Express Your Cancer Anger, Even if Something Gets Broken


Question: How many cancer patients does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer:  A few months after my April 15, 2009, mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction, I changed a light bulb. The light fixture had a cover which I removed to get to the bulb. Everything went well until I tried to reattach the cover.

As I struggled, I got more and more frustrated.I didn’t want to give up and give the job to someone else; I wanted to make it work. And then, suddenly, all I wanted to do was smash the darn thing onto the ground.

Which I did.

The cover exploded on impact and plastic shards sprayed everywhere. I stood frozen in horror and yet felt strangely satisfied. In that split second, I let go of all restraint and expressed exactly what I felt – and I felt anger.

“Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.” William Saroyan

I was good and angry all right – and it wasn’t at that light fixture. I had just gone from healthy to disability and disfigurement.  All I saw when I looked in the mirror was an angry, red cancer scar from hip to hip, a reconstructed mound where my right breast had once been and a missing nipple.

And that was just the physical stuff. Receiving a cancer diagnosis was mind-blowingly frightening. Submitting to painful tests and surgeries overwhelmed my flight or fight impulse. My body image was in the toilet. Emotionally and physically, I was a train wreck.

I was angry about it all; I just didn’t know it until I smashed that light cover to smithereens. After that, two things happened. The first was that I kept running into things that made me angry. Family and friends wanted to get back to “normal” before I was ready. I struggled with loneliness. The technologist who conducted the first mammogram after my surgeries was an insensitive idiot.

The second was that I got help dealing with my cancer anger. Luckily for me, my cancer center offered oncology therapy. My therapist helped me recognize the depth of my anger and reassured me that being angry was entirely normal for cancer patients. She also encouraged me to talk it out – first with her and then with others.

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” Aristotle

It wasn’t easy facing my cancer emotions once a week for a year, but the process healed me. I hadn’t even realized how much until a few weeks ago, when I met a young ministerial student as part of The Connection’s Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project.

As a patient educator, I shared that I still have pain most every day from my TRAM flap reconstruction. She seemed genuinely horrified that I was still suffering three years after my surgery and asked me if I was angry about it.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Mark Twain

My answer caught me off guard, because I had to say that I wasn’t, and that surprised me. Somehow that year of therapy and all those tears immunized me. I’m not a vessel of unresolved anger. I’m sharing my cancer emotions and living my life after cancer with acceptance.

(I originally posted this piece as a guest blog post on No Boobs About It. To this day, that light fixture is still without its cover. Whenever I look up and see it missing, I’m reminded of my cancer emotions that day and happy to be living life after treatment.)

Survival > Existence,


Related Posts:

Coping with Cancer Anger

5 Tips for Coping with Cancer Anger at Home


Nancy J. Sell's picture

Celebrating surviving cancer while creating cancer awareness

WWGN may I please introduce you to HCTS & HCTS is so happy and honored to meet WWGN.

We are a 501 c 3 Group here in Chicago that celebrates Surviving Cancer while creating Cancer Awareness. We’re a Beatles Fest with a Purpose. Wanted to have a Free Street Health Fair (again) in the far North Side of Chicago but couldn’t get the money. We need people with passion like mine to help us get the word out about our intent. Awareness is the name of the game & a Health Fair is only one of our ways to get the word out about “Stupid Cancer”. Our YCC Brochure, (a/k/a, “Your Cancer Card” Brochure) lists the 12 Common Cancers & their warning signs. We all know that early detection is also the name of the game for defeating one of those 12 Common Cancers. Please Check out our (to be edited) Web Site and contact us about being a part of Here Comes the Sun and the YCC.
Debbie's picture

Happy to Welcome HCTS to WWGN

Hi Nancy:

Glad to meet you and HCTS. Good luck with your program – I hope you can get it off the ground again soon. It sounds like you have the passion and comittment to pull it off!

Good luck and take care.

Survival > Existence,


Facing Cancer Together's picture

breaking plates

A friend suggested I buy some cheap plates and smash them. Reading your story of breaking the cover reminds me of that 🙂 Maybe it’ a good idea, and not just to be laughed at. ~Catherine


Debbie's picture

Go For It!

Hi Catherine:

You know what? It really did feel very satisfying. I say as long as it’s safe and no one gets hurt – go for it!!

Survival > Existence,



Beverly McKee The Breast Cancer Warrior's picture

Great blog!

I love that you left the light cover off…it can be very healthy to leave little reminders of where we were in the toughest times and how we have healed. I’m glad you worked through the anger instead of carrying it with you. Good luck with finding relief for the pain from your reconstruction!
Hugs and love from a fellow breast cancer warrior!


Debbie's picture

That Missing Light Cover is a Great Little Reminder

Hi Beverly:

Thank you so much for your kind words, hugs and love! I’m glad I left the light cover off too. Everyone once in a while I do look up at it and take a moment to be thankful that I’m well beyond that day.

All the best to you.

Survival > Existence,



Cancer Curmudgeon's picture

great post

I found that half my anger during and immediately following treatment was at my sense that I was not welcome to express it, in fact was admonished and encouraged to do things (yoga, meditation, what have you). This happened both in real life and online. Finally I found the like minded, at least online, not so much in real life. The Twain quote is perfect, wish I thought of it when I wrote a post about this.
Once I started blogging and expressing my anger, it mostly went away. Wish I could make the ones who wanted me to “just let it go” understand that expressing it IS the healthy way for me.


Debbie's picture

Thank You! I’m Glad You Found a Way to Express Your Anger

Dear Cancer Curmudgeon:

I felt exactly the same way. I’ve definitely benefitted from yoga and meditation, but I’ve also benefitted from expressing my anger. The problem arises when we believe any emotion we’re feeling is wrong or inconvenient. We’re entitled to it all and expressing it all leads to healing. How can you work through something you refuse to recognize?

Survival > Existence,


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