For so long I hated the pressure from friends and family when I had stage 3 breast cancer. "Stay strong, chin up, you have to be positive." I felt like I was failing at times. Sometimes all I wanted to do was cry. In the beginning, I felt angry because these words would fall so easily out of people's mouths and they didn't know what I was going through. It's only now I think that people cared about me and loved me and they didn't want to lose me so they said these things because they thought if I was strong and feisty, I'd survive, and it comforted them. What kind of person who loves you would tell you not to have treatment, to give up, cry every day and never leave the house? They wouldn't, and I wouldn't want them to. Even at times when I wanted to give up- rightly or wrongly that "pressure" from others always kept me going.
I wrote a blog a couple of years ago when I worked at Macmillan about this topic and my words and opinions were very different back then, but this was when I was cancer free, and it wasn't my last chance at life. My stance was that positive thinking was of no benefit and there was no scientific proof that it helped to improve outcomes or extend life.
Now I know that many people with cancer hate being called brave, probably because they are humble but they also believe that they didn't sign up for this; cancer was just thrusted upon them so they had no choice to have to endure the surgery and treatment and dare I say it fight. In my mind I liken this to world war soldiers, forced to sign up and go in the unknown, and modern day soldiers who choose to be in the army and fight for their country. Both were still brave. Both had courage.
There's so much annoyance online regarding the pressures of staying positive during cancer, but people must deal with things the way they see fit and do what suits them. I wouldn't tell someone to snap out of it and be happy and positive, just like I wouldn't expect someone to tell me being so won't make the slightest bit of difference. It's kind of rude actually and bordering on bitter. I have seen what being a realist and a pessimist does to me, it makes me unhappy. It makes me anxious, it makes me think my scans will certainly be bad, it makes me think I've not got long left on this planet. I choose to surround myself with women who inspire me and motivate me. They aren't sitting at home crying or being angry about their situation, they are doing things-amazing things to change people's lives. They are living, many of them for years, way past their expected prognosis. They mostly just ignore their cancers and if a drug stops working it's ok they'll find them something else. It doesn't mean these people aren't frightened and it doesn't mean they never cry, they are just choosing to be happy and live in a bit of a bubble where the negativity doesn't exist.
The reason I choose happiness and optimism is because this ain't no dress rehearsal, it's my last performance. I don't know how long I have left in this world so I may as well be happy, I may as well hope for the best and I may as well love my life. I understand why people are angry. Cancer sucks and nobody deserves to die young, but anger and negativity just eat away at you.
It's not our fault this has happened to us.
To conclude, nobody knows for sure how your mindset affects your cancer and outcomes and nobody wants to feel under huge pressures when everything is falling apart. Sometimes we must be vocal and tell people "actually I don't feel like being upbeat today I'm frightened…" If we don't communicate with these people then they won't understand and they will presume they are being helpful and saying what they think you want to hear.
There's no right way of dealing with cancer but we should respect that everyone should deal with things in their own way. Don't take away someone's right to be a realist, but don't rain on my positivity parade either because this is the life I've chosen.
Love Caroline x