The latest research, insight, and learnings in supportive cancer care.

How to Deal With Cancer and Anger

by Christine Morrison, LMHC

“My mom’s so angry all the time, but I don’t know how to help her.”

“I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”

“I’m pissed off my brother has cancer too. Why him?”

We hear these things all the time. Dealing with cancer is emotionally overwhelming, not just for the person going through it, but also for their loved ones.

Fear, uncertainty, and lack of control all cause anger, a natural emotion to arise during a cancer journey. It’s not about minimizing anger. It’s going to happen. It’s about managing it, but allowing the person to feel it when they need to.

As a child, friend, sibling, coworker, partner, or family member, it's important to know how to respond to your loved one’s anger in a supportive and understanding way.

Here are some tips to help:

Focus on Your Wellbeing First

No, this isn’t selfish. Oftentimes caring for or being close to someone with cancer is emotionally draining. You may feel like you don’t “have the right” to complain or devote time to yourself because you should be focused on the person battling cancer.

You can’t give them your all if you’re running on empty. If you’re constantly on the go without taking time to refuel, you’re constantly living in a state of emotional exhaustion. Intentionally build fun, relaxation, and things that energize you into your life. Remember this is not a selfish act but rather something that benefits not only you but the person you’re supporting.

Validate Their Feelings

When your loved one gets angry, tell them it’s okay to feel that way. Statements like "It's okay to feel angry about this situation" or "I understand that this is really frustrating" can go a long way in making them feel heard and understood.

When we try to problem solve or play devil’s advocate we might accidentally increase the anger. Instead think about joining alongside the person struggling. Reflect back and validate their emotions with phrases like, “it makes sense that…” “it’s normal that…” and “it’s understandable to…”

Listen Actively

Offering a listening ear is one of the most valuable things you can do for someone with cancer. Allow them to vent their frustrations and fears without interruption. Active listening involves giving them your full attention.

Set yourself up for success by removing distractions and ensuring your own needs are taken care of first so they can have your undivided attention. Give them space to emote without shutting down or managing their anger. Avoid offering solutions right away; sometimes, they just need someone to listen. This can feel overwhelming, so prepare yourself accordingly so you can ride the wave of anger alongside them.

Acknowledge it’s Not Personal

Your loved one may struggle with a range of emotions that might not be directly related to the people around them. Remember that generally their anger is not directed at you personally, but rather at the situation. Oftentimes we project strong emotions at the people we trust and care the most about. While feeling like the receptacle for these tough emotions isn’t easy, remind yourself it’s unlikely about you personally.

Try not to internalize their emotions, as this can create unnecessary tension. Be sure to care for yourself and give feedback about how the anger impacts you when the time is right.

Give Them Space

Sometimes, they may need space to process their emotions on their own. If they seem irritable or angry, it's okay to let them be.

We may feel the need to care for or check on them 24/7, but know that space is also okay. Let them know that you're available when they're ready to talk or if they need help.

Respect Their Decisions

People with cancer often feel like they've lost control over their lives with endless treatment protocols and medical decisions they may not fully understand. Going through a serious medical challenge can leave someone feeling powerless over their life.

We all deserve dignity and the power to make choices. When someone is sick, they might feel their dignity and strength is compromised. They might feel like they constantly need to be taken care of. This can be a hard shift for many people and lead to frustration and anger. Show respect for their autonomy by involving them in decisions and empowering them to take back control over their care.

Seek Professional Support

If their anger becomes unmanageable or is causing significant distress, consider involving a mental health professional. Therapists who specialize in supporting patients and their families through the emotional challenges of cancer can offer valuable guidance. Remember you never need to compromise your own safety due to someone else’s anger. We understand how hard it can be to support a loved one with cancer, and know that you, too, don’t have to cope alone.

Remember that their anger is a response to the immense challenges they're facing and is not a reflection of their feelings towards you. By offering support, validation, and a listening ear, you can help them navigate their emotions and work through their anger in a healthier way.

If you or your loved one wants to learn more about how to cope with someone's anger, schedule a free 15 minute call with a Curio Therapist here.


CancerCare. (n.d.). Coping with anger. https://www.cancercare.org/publications/80-coping_with_anger

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips for coping. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-diagnosis/art-20044544

Brown, C. D., & Miller, R. E. (2018). The Role of Empathy in Dealing with Others' Anger. Journal of Psychology, 45(3), 167-182.

Garcia, M. H., & Patel, S. R. (2019). Conflict Resolution Strategies for Addressing Anger in Interpersonal Relationships. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 73(2), 89-104.

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