I am a great fan of another cancer survivor’s blog, The Pastor’s Cancer Diary“. It is written (well written!) by Rev. Carl Wilton, a man living in a “slow motion crisis”. He has a documented lymphoma recurrence that it just there, being constantly monitored, but for now not getting any better or worse. He’s in a prolonged period of watchful waiting. Living fully with the uncertainty cancer brings to our lives.
He recently did a great post I recommend you read, The Glad Game.
This is an excerpt from his post:
“We cancer survivors hear a lot about the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. In many ways, that advice is but a warmed-over version of Pollyanna’s Glad Game. The problem is, no real person can be as relentless in playing the game as the fictional Pollyanna. Feelings of sadness and dejection sometimes present themselves, and that’s OK. They come with the territory.
If we take the “think positive” advice too seriously, we can end up denying the existence of those negative thoughts – which are only natural, after all. Sure, maintaining a positive attitude is important, but that doesn’t mean we can never give ourselves permission to feel anger, or sadness, or frustration or any of the other negative emotions that come from this kind of protracted struggle.”
He also in his post quoted a hero of mine, Dr. Jimmie Holland (who I got to have lunch with once!!). She is a psychiatrist who has written books about the emotional aspect of cancer survivorship and who deals with the normal emotions cancer patients feel. She founded the science of psycho-oncology.
I’ve struggled a lot with the sentiment that we with a cancer diagnosis are always expected to “think positive”. I’ve wondered sometimes why those who experience great physical trauma, heart attacks etc. are not held to the same expectation to “think positive” as we with cancer are. I loved that my mom, when she was hospitalized and paralyzed and disabled was able to tell me how depressed she was. I told her she had every right to feel depressed; life had dealt her a terrible blow, she had lost a lot. In her life at the time, depression was justified. It was a normal reaction to her circumstance.
But people don’t say that to cancer patients. Somehow for us “staying positive” is supposed to help us beat our disease. We aren’t allowed to feel depressed or frustrated or discouraged at the negative changes cancer has brought into our lives. We are supposed to deny those normal negative feelings. But denying feelings is always bad, I think. We need to be able to feel what we feel. To be honest. We can’t move forward until we process those negative feelings; the grief, the hurt, the fear.
We need to be allowed to be who we are, to feel what we feel. To have support when we can’t always be “positive”. A cancer diagnosis deals us a terrible blow, in so many ways. Yes, we feel negative emotions.
We can’t be positive until we process the negative. We need to be able to feel all that we feel. We need to be able to feel hurt and pain and anger before we can move beyond to the “positive”. Negative feeling are normal and justified. We can’t be “positive” until we process the negative.