Sunday, April 25, 2010

Positive thinking and cancer

"Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens."
Kahlil Gibran

I'm going to make an assumption and say that people who know me would describe me as a positive, upbeat person. That's why since being diagnosed with breast cancer I've been surprised by how upset I get when people tell me to "be positive" or to "stay strong." I realize it's well-intentioned and it wouldn't be much help for people to be negative. I understand that's why these words are kindly shared. But I think it would be refreshing and definitely more realistic if someone occasionally acknowledged to me that cancer sucks. Call me Queen of the Obvious, but don't call me Queen of Denial (although I admit to wearing that crown at some point during this cancer journey). Really, doesn't this situation seem like a time when telling someone to be positive is a bit absurd?

Sometimes it might feel like your walking on eggshells trying to figure out the right words to say to someone during a difficult time. We've all been there. The point I'm making is telling a person to be positive may make them feel guilty or bad about the way they are feeling or coping with their situation at the moment. It can result in causing a person to feel that they somehow aren't measuring up because they can't smile or look on the bright side of life.

If we approach an illness or negative experience as a journey taking us to a place of acceptance of the good, the bad and the ugly feelings, we are allowing the range of emotions to be recognized and validated. It's not just about forcing a positive mindset, or putting on a happy face. Now, I'm not suggesting that lingering on the negative is healthy. I'm simply saying it's good to deal with the negative feelings and it helps when people provide support by validating the entire spectrum of feelings. Coming from a place of dis-ease and working toward a place of wellness is a process. After this processing occurs it becomes more likely that I'm able to get to a genuinely positive attitude.

When people offer their support by acknowledging a tough situation and allowing feelings to be shared, whether positive or negative, well, that is golden. While it is important to have a positive belief about life's circumstances, it's equally important to ask "what is this life challenge trying to teach me?" So... I think Gibran is right. I'm not defined by life's challenges, but by how I choose to look at and respond to those challenges and, yes, I'm being positive.

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