Is Keeping a Positive Attitude about Cancer Exhausting You?

by GregP_WN

Guest Post by Debbie Woodbury

As a cancer patient contending with treatment, how many times did someone tell you to “keep a positive attitude?” As I trudged through my breast cancer diagnosis, mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries, I appreciated the good intentions behind this advice, but I wasn’t buying it.

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First and foremost, let’s expose the myth that a positive attitude helps you beat cancer, because it’s simply not true. There is ”no scientific proof that a positive attitude gives you an advantage in cancer treatment or improves your chance of being cured.” 

Maybe this is a good thing. I don’t know about you, but there is no way I could have maintained a 24/7 positive attitude about cancer. On the contrary, I remember many moments of anger, loneliness, fear, stress, and a host of other emotions often referred to as “negative.”

The truth is that we are all human. We have our good days and our bad days. When we can’t force a sunny disposition does that mean we’re letting ourselves and our loved ones down because we aren’t “fighting” hard enough? Of course not, but the “tyranny of positive thinking” creates an unreasonable burden which exhausts and blames the patient.
As a wife, mother of two children, daughter, sister and friend, my early cancer days were fraught with the guilt and fatigue of trying to maintain a positive attitude at all times. Finally, a few months after my mastectomy, I was wiped out. My husband and I had been invited to dinner with friends and I didn’t want to go because I had no energy to hide the “negative” stuff anymore. My husband encouraged me to go and be honest.
When our friends asked how I was feeling, I admitted how hard it was to heal, especially emotionally. Their response was compassionate and supportive, and it surprised me. Not because I didn’t expect it of them, but because I had gotten out from under the tyranny of 24/7 positive spin cancer and it felt good. 

I recently asked my Facebook community, “Were you encouraged to keep a positive attitude and was that hard to do at times?” The response reveals “pressure” to be positive or risk scaring and letting down “supporters,” and how “tough” it was to keep positive at all times. 
However, my readers also made clear that a positive attitude is key to moving forward. I was awestruck by the creativity they employed to keep their spirits up, including carrying a camera everywhere, bald head painting, mindfulness, laughter and journal writing.

If you feel compelled by others to keep a positive outlook no matter how you really feel, you’re risking resentfulness. As the Dali Lama makes clear, it’s just not possible to have a good attitude all the time:

“It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come.”

Being true to yourself, honoring all of your emotions and sharing them with people you trust is empowering. If you’re feeling anger, stress, fear, or are in a bad mood, own it. You’ll learn that you, and the people who care about you, can handle it. Knowing that gives you a vital level of control, which frees you up to enjoy a truly positive attitude. And, although it can’t cure you, a positive attitude offers significant benefits:

“A positive attitude is not going to save you. What it's going to do is, every day, between now and the day you die, whether that's a short time from now or a long time from now, that every day, you're going to actually live.” Elizabeth Edwards

What do you think about being positive and having a good attitude all of the time? Is it possible? Are you able to honor all of your emotions?

Copyright @ 2013 WhereWeGoNow, LLC
Copyright @ 2013 123RF Photos

Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The healing power of sharing her story as a cancer survivor compelled Debbie Woodbury to found WhereWeGoNow, an interactive community for cancer survivors creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy. She is also a blogger at The Huffington Post, an inspirational speaker, a support volunteer with The Cancer Hope Network, a member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, a patient educator with the Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, a wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer.

Debbie’s book, You Can Heal After Treatment: 10 simple secrets to creating inspired healing, wellness & your joyous life after cancer, is coming out in September. Learn more by signing up for notifications at WhereWeGoNow.

You can also find Debbie on Twitter and Facebook.

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