September 12, 2023

Reaching Your Breaking Point?


I got an email last night from a cancer patient.  She asked that I not use her name.  So I’ll call her Mia.  She wanted me to pose a question to you:

“The day I received my fourth diagnosis, I called my mother on the phone balling, crying. I could barely talk.  ‘How f***ing strong do I have to be?  Four times.  Four f***ing times,’ was all I could say.  I was in shock for days.  I live in a neighborhood with a lot of alcoholism.  After many years of not drinking (because I wanted my children to know they have a choice to not drink), I was at a friend’s house and grabbed a beer. Later that same night I drank more in a bar.  Driving home from the bar I got stopped by the cops. I got a DUI.

“Months after my surgeries and treatments the charges were reduced.  I’m in remission again.  Now I have to contend with all my mistakes. I honestly have no idea what happened to me.  It was something that my ‘healthy’ self would not have done.  How many others out there reach their breaking point and throw their hands in the air and just say ‘f*** it’ and have a moment of insanity or self-destructive behavior?”

Mia’s not alone.  In Everything Changes, I write about Wafa’a, a young adult lymphoma patient who cut herself as a teenager and began again after recurrence.  Wafa’a said, “When I get a cancer diagnosis, I feel sadness, frustration, anger, loneliness, and really violent, like I want to break something and freak out.  Some people get anger out externally but I want to take it out on myself.”

I too understand the need to explode from cancer’s intensity.  A few times I’ve craved dragging hard on a cigarette  but just could not go there.  The day after I received test results showing a rare variation in my cell type, I chucked a dozen eggs against my shower walls while screaming and crying.  It was satisfyingly messy and violent, but safe.  (I now think shower drains should come with disposals for shells.)

Like Mia, have you ever had a breaking point of insanity or self-destructive behavior?   Have you found any safe and healthy ways to let your violent anger out?

Read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s to learn more about how Tracy, Wafa’a, and Geoff navigated through self-destructive thinking.

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  1. Pat Steer (Gaelen) Says:
    September 12th, 2009 at 8:15 AM

    Have I ever had an ‘insanity’ breaking point? A couple of times. Mostly they’re transient, but sometimes they’ll last for a few days or weeks.

    At first I usually get seriously depressed. I might scream and yell, but I usually sink — sleep a lot, cry a lot. I don’t know if my external coping mechanism is either safe or healthy, but the one I use most often is retail therapy and the more depressed I am, the easier it can be for me to go overboard.

    Once was in the hospital, a few days after my first surgery. At first I just shut down…but when I came back into the world, I ame back swinging, kicking @ss & taking names. I wanted to know what the docs had seen during surgery, I wanted my path results, I wanted them *now* — but the docs wouldn’t discuss them with me or with my local onc. I said something to Dr. Sparkly Eyes like ‘I have over 350 stitches…I’m guessing you saw SOMEthing.’ It took a couple episodes of snarkiness before he decided that giving me what I was asking for was his best bet. Meanwhile, I was pretty evil to be around. And as soon as I got out of the hospital, I went on an online shopping spree under the excuse that I’d lost 20 lbs and needed new clothes. Yeah. Right.

    The second time was last summer while I was recovering from surgery #3. I couldn’t figure out any way that I could possibly go back to work — but also didn’t want to go on social security or long-term disability. After the initial shut-down passed, I began spending money, shopping online. I ended up returning almost everything, but I still have a couple of things I wasn’t able to send back. I guess that kind of behavior is an extension of the I-don’t-give-a-d@mn attitude I feel when I go to that place past frustration.

    So, yeah, if spending more than I should counts, I can absolutely go overboard…and not in a good way. (as I look at the brand-new Blackberry that replaced a perfectly functioning regular cell phone, wondering if I’ve lost my mind…)

  2. manda lu Says:
    September 12th, 2009 at 9:16 AM

    i am at my breaking point. murphy’s law has taken effect in my life and i’m miserable. i want one good thing to come my way i’ve had cacner this is my 3rd time with it. i am a single mom, and a non drinker.

    it’s the hardest thing EVER. not drinking, dealing with cancer and raising a hellion child. the job that should have been mine went to the pastor’s daughter, i have abnormal pap smear results, honestly BREAKING POINT. i have awedding today and it’ll take everything in me not to get drunk and dance til i fall.

    i’m sad constantly but you know what, the light on the other side shines bright and those 4 months between surgery and rediagnoses is my holy grail.

    hang in there people.

  3. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    September 12th, 2009 at 2:00 PM

    Manda Lu - I guess vices are bad for you and that is the point, but I think they should created one just for you that fits into the life of a single mom, 3x cancer patient, who doesn’t drink -some kind of wild release that has no permanent damage and no regrets in the morning. You deserve it. I too went through the saga of abnormal paps in the midst of all my cancer hell. I hear your stress loud and clear. All my best, Kairol

  4. Michelle Says:
    September 13th, 2009 at 9:51 AM

    Most of my “breaking points” have been since I have been in remission. I had one while I was in chemo, when I was laying in the hospital, sick and septic and unwilling to fight any longer…, most of my breaks have come as a result of post-treatment stress, both cancer and non-cancer related. I think that everyone has these, and they are a necessary facet of living life. Making sure that these breakdowns don’t take over your life are how you make it to the happy, better days….at least, that’s my take.

  5. Wendy Says:
    September 13th, 2009 at 9:56 PM

    i’ve already reached my breaking point so many times i can’t even put it into words anymore; i’m so exhausted. I wish i didn’t have to work so damn hard to get what comes to so many others so easily…i want children. i want a family. i want a partner to grow old with. I’m so scared I’ll never have that all.

  6. Aimee Says:
    September 18th, 2009 at 2:47 PM

    I’m 13. I’ve never had cancer, but I’m a really depressive person. I could relate to this. I feel so sorry for the people who have cancer, and people who have lost the battle. Cancer is very common in my family and I’m worried I might get it. My grandfather is checked every five years (I think it’s five years..) for bowel cancer as his side of the family is very prone to it. I’m worried about me getting it, aswell as my family. My nana died on Valentines day last year - it was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, as I was young and was very close to my grandmother - I I decided to cut. I regret it. My auntie died on Christmas Eve last year also which made me feel even worse. On Christmas Day 1992, my auntie aged 19 died of leukimia, (I forgot how to spell it) even though I never met her, it still depresses me to know that she was a lovely girl that I never met and who I apparently look and act like.
    Early this year my other grandfather died, I laid off cutting as I began to realise there is nothing I am accomplishing by it. My scars have healed very well but I still get very depressed about everything - I have considered cutting again, but have rose above it. It takes alot of will-power to avoid your breaking point.

  7. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    September 18th, 2009 at 3:08 PM

    Dear Aimee - What a coincidence - my grandma died from cancer on Valentine’s Day too. It was one of the hardest days of my life. I am so sorry for all of the loss you have had in your family. How much can one family take? I totally see why you reached your breaking point and am in awe of how you have risen above your desire to cut. I think we all have to reach a breaking point sometime, the trick is to find ways to live in that hard breaking point place that won’t damage our bodies even more. Dancing, art, writing, screaming…all seem like safe alternatives. I understand the desire to do damage to one’s body (I used to be anorexic). It is one of the hardest things in the world to feel those feelings and rise above them. Hang in there. I’m sending you lots of love! Kairol

  8. batya Says:
    October 3rd, 2009 at 6:04 PM

    After a particularly hard day, I noticed my husband’s beer bottles lined up on the floor. Generally, I dislike seeing them, but on that day, it was just too much. I picked them up and smashed them on the tiled floor; it made one hell-of-a-mess, and was a tremendous release. (Though next time I might try eggs- probably safer)

    Thanks for a great blog.

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