Just Say No - To Negativity

by Jane Ashley

We have all experienced negative thoughts and feelings at diagnosis, during treatment, and afterward. Although it may be “normal” to experience negativity, those negative thoughts and feelings only serve to drag us down — robbing us of today’s joy.

Not Afraid Of The Storms

How do we quiet those voices in our heads? Does this mean that we always have to be “positive?” Does this mean we shouldn’t face reality? Do we always have to have a smile on our faces? The answer to all of those questions is no.

What, then, is negativity?

Let’s look at Vocabulary.com to understand negativity. Negativity is not simply the opposite of being positive. Negativity envelopes the whole person — so that we always expect the worst. Negative is a dark cloud that does not lift. Negativity influences every aspect of our life. We believe that we’ll have a terrible side effect from our chemo. We believe that our next scan will show a recurrence.

Negativity pushes us down into the muck and mire so that we can’t see clearly. Vocabulary.com goes so far as to say that negativity is a “habitual skepticism and a disagreeable tendency to deny or oppose suggestions.”

We’ve all known someone like that — we call them “Debbie Downer” or “Skip Skeptical.”

The Components of Negativity

We can break down negativity into categories to gain insight into how to help control our feelings about our cancer diagnosis. Learning how to cope with these components help us to block the darkness so that it doesn’t overwhelm us.


Everyone’s cancer is a little different — we may have high-grade, aggressive cells but only be Stage IV or we may have low-grade, well-differentiated cells and be Stage IV. Some patients tolerate treatments while others suffer debilitating side effects, and either has to receive lower doses or stop treatment. We don’t have access to another person’s pathology report. Their tumor may be wrapped around a large blood vessel making surgery more complicated or impossible.

Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy

We sometimes compare treatment centers, believing that XYZ (that is a 5-hour drive away) is a “superior” cancer center. We may unconsciously believe that we’re not receiving as “good” treatment as XYZ provides, putting doubts and fear into our mind. As long as we are being treated with the NCCN treatment guidelines, we don’t need to compare and make ourselves miserable because we are unable to go to the “BEST.”

Some of us make lasting friends within the cancer community. If one of them passes away, we are fraught with anxiety, fear, or guilt. We shouldn’t compare our cancer to their cancer. Each patient has a “different” cancer, even when we have the same type and stage.


When we allow doubts to enter our minds, we poison our faith and confidence in our future. There are no guarantees in life — accidents happen, or we make a mistake, but we also have good fortune. One of my mantras is, “Don’t worry unless my oncologist is worried.” While it’s true that we should report side effects and new symptoms, the appearance of something new does not always signal an impending disaster.

Our Doubts Are Traitors

Some patients respond to their first line of treatment. Others don’t but respond to the second line of treatment. Don’t doubt and second guess before you even start — when we allow doubt to creep in, it’s like always looking over our shoulder to see if a bear is stalking us — even if the bears are in hibernation.


We are all afraid when we are first diagnosed. Having chemo is scary. That big radiation machine is intimidating. We may have never faced surgery before. Yet, somewhere deep within us, we find the courage to face what must be done.

We may let fear invade our treatment plan. We may learn that Patient A had an MRI and wonder why we didn’t have one. Patient B shares that they had a blood test for XYZ, and we afraid because we weren’t tested for XYZ. Not every patient needs every test — our oncologists have years of experience and training and never hesitate to order the tests and imaging that they need to diagnose and treat our cancers.

There’s also the fear of recurrence that we all experience. Unfortunately, we each have to learn to have to live with and conquer that fear because it is normal to worry about a recurrence.


There are two kinds of shame that cancer patients may experience. One is shame and guilt, believing that a certain behavior contributed to our development of cancer. If we dwell too much on the risk facts, like obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, or alcohol consumption, we’d all be driving ourselves crazy. There is no definitive reason that one person develops a certain kind of cancer and that their neighbor or coworker doesn’t face cancer. Don’t let shame creep in so that you don’t feel like you deserve the recommended treatment.

Shame Is A Soul Eating Emotion

Another area of shame is the location of our cancer. As we say here at WhatNext.com, cancer doesn’t pick convenient places to occur. First Lady Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974. She broke social taboos and was open with the press and the public about her breast cancer diagnosis. Today, there is no shame in a breast cancer diagnosis.

Sadly, that is not true for other cancer diagnoses. It is quite daunting for many people to share their diagnosis of rectal or anal cancer. Gynecological cancers can be challenging for women to share. Men may find it difficult to share a diagnosis of breast, testicular, or penile cancer.

It is what it is. I was not comfortable sharing my diagnosis of rectal cancer. But I had one of those “light bulb” moments and realized, “If not me, then who will share the story that rectal bleeding is a symptom of rectal cancer and not just, probably hemorrhoids.” Treat your diagnosis as a chance to help educate others.

Replace Negativity and Start Living Again

Try your best to replace those negative voices that keep trying to bring you down with more encouraging thoughts. We don’t have to be cheery every moment — but keeping our eyes on the prize helps us find the strength and courage to face what we thought was unthinkable.

Related Articles to Keep You Positive

10 Positive Things Found In A 4th Diagnosis

Staying Positive And Keeping The Fear of Recurrence Away

30 Ways to Stay Positive When You Have Cancer

Is Keeping A Positive Attitude About Cancer Exhausting You?

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