Must we put a positive spin on everything, even #cancer?

Do We Always Have to Put a Positive Spin on Everything, Even Cancer?

Do you ever wonder why people try so hard to turn everything that happens into something positive?

Me too.

Maybe it’s human nature to look for the silver linings in everything that happens, including the really crappy stuff. Maybe it’s how we explain why bad things happen.

There has to be a reason for the chaos or the pain doesn’t there? (Umm…no.)

It’s the same with cancer. There has to be a reason that cancer picked you and not the rotten-no-good person who lives down the street. That’s sarcasm. I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, not even my worst enemy. If I had one.

We humans like to analyze the whys and the how comes of whatever it might be that’s going on in our lives or in the lives of those we care about.

There are always answers. There are always reasons for why bad things happen, are there not?

(Again, no!)

Often we hear things like, everything happens for a reason, or you’re never given more than you can handle, or you were chosen for this because you’re strong enough to handle it and so on.

I say, such statements are total BS!

Sometimes there are no reasons. Sometimes we are given way more than we can handle (but then somehow we do) and more often than not, being strong has nothing to do with any of it. Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes these things are good and sometimes they are not.

And when the bad things do happen, putting a positive spin on the experience still doesn’t make it a good experience.

Sure, it’s fine to be positive if that’s how you’re feeling, but this doesn’t mean it’s bad to feel negative. Both are valid human feelings and reactions. You can’t just ignore, or worse, try to stomp out negative thoughts and feelings when they pop up. It isn’t even healthy to try to do so.

So why does it so often seem like there’s only one way to do cancer, especially breast cancer, the just stay positive way?

Do we always have to try to stay positive and attempt to turn bad experiences inside out, or in other words, turn them into something positive?

(I’m just asking…)

Trying to turn cancer (or any bad experience) into a positive thing can be daunting, exhausting and an unnecessary extra burden for even the most noble of cancer patients. It might even be a waste of valuable time and energy.

And just for the record, I an not a negative person. Anyone who knows me would probably agree. I consider myself to be a realist. And in the reality I live in, cancer sucks.

It sometimes seems that if we aren’t walking around feeling positive all the time and talking about all the things cancer has ‘taught’ us, we are being negative. I don’t accept that. I hate cancer, and I refuse to pretty it up and turn it into something it’s not.

Maybe we should back off from telling cancer patients to just stay positive. Maybe we should back off from trying to turn every bad thing that happens into something positive. Maybe there aren’t necessarily any grand epiphanies after cancer knocks on your door either. Maybe it doesn’t make you a better person. (What?)

And even if the latter were true, why give cancer any credit? The person did all the work.

We learn and hopefully grow from all our life experiences. Each of us is a conglomerate of the good and the bad stuff that has happened to us. If we’re lucky, we have more of the good kind.

But maybe we don’t need to try so hard to put a positive spin on every single bad experience.

Maybe some bad experiences are just that, bad experiences.

And cancer is one of them.

Do you, or did you, ever feel pressured to ‘just stay positive’?

If yes, how does/did this make you feel? Better, worse, indifferent, angry, frustrated, or how exactly?

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Must we put a positive spin on everything, even #cancer? #cancerlanguage #breastcancer #cancersucks

34 thoughts to “Do We Always Have to Put a Positive Spin on Everything, Even Cancer?”

  1. I think your mental health takes a hit when you pretend everything is peachy when it’s not. It’s important to express feelings honestly. If the person listening perceives you as negative, that’s their problem. You’re not responsible for their feelings. Some days you might feel like things are looking up, other days not. I think it is just fine to express what you are experiencing. Did you see the documentary on Dateline with Tom Brokaw? He was too stoic about his pain, he suffered a lot more than he had to because he didn’t inform his health care providers or his family about his high level of pain. Whether it’s physical or emotional pain, we all have a right to express ourselves and to get relief. What other people may think of our expression is their problem. If someone really wants to be supportive, then they can listen and bear witness to your feelings without being judgmental.

    1. I am with you, Alene. It is very important to me to express my pain but only to those who I can express them to. Not everyone is a good listener and I know who they are including family members. But I always find a way to express myself even through my writing.

    2. Alene, I completely agree with your comments. Yes, I did see that documentary about Tom Brokaw and yes, he did suffer more than he needed to because he chose to be stoic. We shouldn’t worry so much about what others are thinking about our feelings. But of course, this is easier said than done too. Thank you for sharing your insights with us.

  2. Great post! I feel the exact same way you do about the “staying positive” comment.

    When you are not staying positive you are also perceived as being weak, not only as negative. So when showing your vulnerability, people sometimes feel you are not up to the challenge.

    I hate to have my emotions suppressed. I would rather not talk to that person anymore because in a way, it puts a heavy burden on me to deal with them. Like you, I am a realist.

    I must admit though, the only thing I am grateful for after cancer, not because of it, it’s the fact that I now know who my friends really are and my family too! I think what I have come to appreciate is the awakening it has created, of course, by circumstance.

    1. Rebecca, Excellent point about that perception. Staying positive does not equal strength. Sometimes its takes way more strength to express how you’re truly doing. I don’t think anyone likes to have their emotions suppressed and therein lies the potential for harm when a person does that. Thanks for sharing. Always nice to hear from another realist.

  3. It is difficult when people say things like that. They really do want to help and are unsure what to say. A friend recently asked me what to say or not say to her mother when her mother was first diagnosed with cancer. Your pet peeve is the one I mentioned first. My friend was surprised that keeping a positive attitude was not a good thing to say. I am glad I was able to educate her. Thanks for your post. I hope many read it and take it to heart. xxx

    1. Jan, I think many people are surprised to hear that telling someone to keep a positive attitude might not be the best thing to say to someone who’s going through a difficult experience such as a cancer diagnosis. I’m glad you were able to share that with your friend. Of course, people do want to help and are often unsure what to say. I’m glad you are educating some people along the way, Jan. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  4. Great post Nancy! In the past six years and now (currently) on my third round of invasive b/c, I am so, so tired of hearing “stay positive”, “everything happens for a reason” and other well-meaning, in my humble opinion, platitudes. I do understand that most people don’t know what to say; with all of the ra-ra and pink tutus etc., surrounding breast cancer, it is hard to be a realist because that does sometimes get me the label of “negative” in some eyes and, with those people, I don’t discuss this anymore. Know your audience! The realities of this triple-positive beast have meant I have to accept the possibilities and move beyond (which is harder this time around), knowing that it might recur at any time. Had I been a “pink positive tutu wearing cancer patient” I have no idea how I would deal the current situation – such a let down after all that positivity.
    I also understand that “staying positive” works for many – we all have to deal with this “journey” in our own way; it’s just not for me because, as you write, “cancer is a bad experience”.
    Again, a great post and thank you.

    1. Katie, You’re right, the just stay positive mantra seems to work for some. But then again, I wonder if there’s some denial or self-deception involved, but who am I to say? You’re right each person has to deal with all this crap in her own way. I’m sorry you are dealing with another round – hearing platitudes must be even more annoying at times now. Thank you for reading and sharing. Good luck with everything.

  5. My favorite example of someone using “stay positive” in a really BAAADDDD way was the HR person at my former district. She had repeatedly been denying me needed paperwork to apply for state teacher disability. After yet another time of my explaining I was stage 4 and what that meant, she cheerily said, “if you would just be positive you could beat cancer and be able to come back to work.” (It was at that point I finally threatened legal action if they did not give me the forms.)

    1. Elizabeth, Oh my… thank you for sharing one perfect example of what is or could be wrong with telling a person to just stay positive. That HR person hopefully learned a thing or two from you. Thanks again for sharing.

      1. I doubt she learned a thing because HR stilled tried to block me from getting disability by not forwarding complete medical information from my oncologist. Fortunately, he was aware that kind of thing happens and sent me complete copies as well.

        1. Elizabeth, Well that’s too bad. Glad to hear it all got sorted out eventually, but sorry you had to go through that. Thank you for the additional comments.

  6. I love that you’re a realist Nancy. I consider I am too and respect myself enough to accept that it’s ok to have bad days, to think dark thoughts and to get worried sometimes. Having access to the full range of thoughts and emotions is healthy, it means we aren’t robots! Being a realist about life during and after cancer is, in my opinion, very useful. Nothing can really prepare us for a cancer diagnosis, a relapse or being told we are stage 4. I’ve never known sugar coating a sh*tty situation to make it anything other than sh*tty with a thin and meaningless veneer of superficiality. It certainly doesn’t help anyone and sets very unrealistic expectations as so very clearly articulated in Elizabeth J’s comment!

    1. Tracy, I agree that having access to the full range of thoughts and emotions is healthy and yes, who wants to be a robot? Good point. Feelings and emotions are complex and throw cancer into the mix and the complexity multiplies. I’ve never been one to sugar coat anything either. I much prefer dealing in reality. Thank you for reading and adding your thoughts to this discussion. I was a little worried about how this post might be received, so I appreciate everyone’s comments.

  7. The idea that we have to stay positive also carries the implication that if we aren’t all Pollyanna’s our cancer will return or never go into remission. I call BS on all of that nonsense, it puts way too much pressure on someone already under a huge amount of pressure. There is no reason for cancer, it is a horrible indiscriminate disease that maims, tortures and kills. It’s a stupid disease that tries to kill it’s host and with that itself. I cannot for one minute get on board with the nonsense that everything happens for a reason, life is a random cauldron of good and bad for everyone. People diagnosed with cancer have a right to be mad as hel* that they pulled the cancer card. Once you own your feelings of anger, anguish, self pity or whatever you legitimately feel, then you can move on to beat the demon cancer.

  8. I knew someone who was fond of saying, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” She died at age 44 after a long addiction, 13 years before I was diagnosed. Obviously her sentiment went only so far.

    I never viewed my cancer mindset as positive or negative: it just is. I pumped up my fight vibes but did not engage in magical thinking. I was and am, “Okay, how do I best deal with this?” I spent my energy in finding ways to cope and adapt, because that’s really all that I can do. Caregiving — including caregiving while undergoing cancer treatment — taught me to pick my battles.

    That said, I am fond of saying that even a bad day is a good day because I am still on this side of the grass. It’s helped me get through the bad days.

    1. Elissa, I agree, it just is… that is so well put. And your last sentence is so important. Just because we are being honest about our feelings, whatever they are, this doesn’t mean we are not grateful. Sometimes I think if we don’t take up the just stay positive mantra, we are perceived not only as being weak as Rebecca mentioned, but also as being ungrateful, which is totally not true. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I named my blog on spinning positives, because that is what we are supposed to do, at least I thought! I did win the metastatic lottery and I do try to find happy and funny things in my life, but I have to find them. If my husband tries to tell me to be positive he gets a mouthful from me. I don’t think things happen for a reason, my cancer wasn’t a blessing and I have horribly awful painful sad days. I guess we all have to cope in our own ways, but if I let myself get too focused on the sad and the bad – I have a hard time finding my way back to happy. I don’t want to live the rest of my life angry. So I have to find the good mixed in with my lot in life.

    1. Mandi, Your blog is wonderful and you certainly have every right to position it any way you like. I find your blog to be inspiring because you are so honest and yes, because you are so funny too. You have a very sharp wit and this is your blogging style. Yes, we all must cope in our own way and no one benefits from becoming too focused on the sad and the bad, but denying genuine feelings isn’t good for anyone either. There has to be a balance. I hate that you ‘won the metastatic lottery,’ but I admire the way you are handling it in your way. Thank you for sharing your insights, Mandi.

  10. Hi Nancy,

    We must have been reading each other’s minds because I’m working on a post right now about “Things Happen for a Reason” and such platitudes. They irk me to no end. Cancer taught me that some very tragic things happen for NO reason, but people have continually said that to me and look to me as if I’m some sort of hero for “beating cancer.” I could go on and on about this, which is why I’m writing the post on this topic.

    Great post, Nancy!

  11. I think there’s a difference between keeping a positive outlook and turning cancer into the type of positive experience that ends up being quotes on pictures of snow capped mountains. With that being said, whatever makes someone feel good…go for it!!! If breast cancer has changed your life for the better…fabulous! For me, finding joy in my every day life, laughing at the hard stuff and throwing the occasional pity party has helped me cope and, I truly believe, tolerate treatment well. I didn’t smile through everything. I’ve run the gamut of emotions. I still do and imagine I will for a very long time to come. I think it’s important to be real about what is happening as you live through cancer treatment. I certainly try to keep it real on my blog. I go back and read some things and think, “Oh yeah, that was a rough week.” But if I documented that time by creating a false sense of happiness, I wouldn’t be honoring my particular journey. I guess my point is, to each her own. (Or his) Do what you have to do to survive. If that’s the, “This happened to me because I’m strong enough to handle it” route, great! If it’s the “Fuck cancer, fuck my life, why did this happen to me” route, that’s great too.

    1. Carrie, I completely agree, to each her/his own. However, there seems to be such a pervasive tendency in our culture to turn everything into a positive that sometimes it just makes me want to scream because well, cancer sucks. Be real. Be you. Don’t feel you have to turn your cancer experience into something it’s not. Do what you want with it. That’s my main message I guess. Thank you for reading and sharing your insights.

  12. I think it’s all about interpretation, perspective, and balance. Whatever our trial, whether cancer or anything else, we need to experience and express whatever emotions we are feeling. It’s easier to do that in a safe place with people who can handle it, but that’s not always possible. BUT THEN – it’s our choice whether to live in a negative space or a positive space. We make a choice to either dwell on the crappy, negative things that are happening to us, or watch for and focus on the good things that happen in the midst of cancer (or whatever other trial you’re going through). I was diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer nearly simultaneously. The ovarian cancer is life-threatening, and I’ve shed lots of tears, faced lots of fears, and dealt with many physical affronts. But there have been so many blessings that have come along with cancer, and I’m definitely a better person and I’ve learned to live better and love better than ever before. We can’t ignore the negative – that’s incredibly unhealthy – but we can’t ignore the positive, either – also unhealthy. I think how we deal with these challenges can help us affect our culture, which only wants to experience the pretty, happy, positive side of life, which is totally unrealistic. Fight a good fight, ladies and gentlemen. <3

    1. Lynne, You’re right we cannot ignore the negative feelings. All feelings are valid. I’m sorry you were diagnosed with both breast and ovarian cancers. That’s a lot to deal with and then some. There are good things that have come my way since cancer, too, but I don’t believe cancer has made me a better person nor do I think that I necessarily live and love better than before. That kind of thinking doesn’t work for me; borders too closely on that whole cancer is a gift thinking, but of course, if that’s how you feel, that is totally fine. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

  13. Lynne,

    Regarding your comment on May 22nd (directly above):

    Who decides whether someone is living in a self imposed negative space, Lynne? On one hand you proclaim

    we need to experience and express whatever emotions we are feeling.

    on the other hand, you seem to be banning any ‘negative thoughts’ simply because you have so far survived:

    it’s our choice whether to live in a negative space or a positive space. …there have been so many blessings that have come along with cancer

    Do you actually believe that those “blessings” hold true for so many cancer victims (when cancer has become a multimillion$ treatment indu$try) in our current (and historic) predatory economy? I call ‘foul’ (not saying you were aware of that foul ball, just calling foul on it, in general).

    On a personal level, I know I will die of something; so I don’t so much mind likely, and ultimately, dying of cancer so much as I mind that the Breast Cancer Indu$try
    is clearly serving the purpose of predatory behavior under the disguise of being [WARRIOR[essa]S!] Blessed with Cancer! (not to say that you are actually a part of that profit making industry, Lynne), particularly for those poverty ridden who never live to speak of those ble$$ings because they could not even afford that early diagnosis, let alone that Breast Cancer Treatment.

    1. (An added note, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has still left millions: unable to find a doctor willing to treat them under Medicaid, while State Governers increasingly reduce Medicaid reimbursement rates and, even see to it that those qualifiable are not even able to access Medicaid; and living in poverty (The Federal Poverty Levels, which might qualify one for assistance, are stunningly outdated), yet not eligible for any reprieve, whatsoever, from the crippling financial disaster of the Can$er Treatment Indu$try.

      I am old enough to remember the days, when the US at least played lip service to those living their daily lives in fear, illness and poverty, LET ALONE LIVING WITH A [possibly much to due with utter regulartory absence regarding Indu$trial TOXINS] STUNNINGLY DEADLY, EXPENSIVE AND HORRIDLY PAINFUL AT THE END DISEASE (painful unless one is stunningly wealthy, and therefore, Beyond the Grasp of “The Law [for the poverty ridden]”) without proclaiming those in fear and poverty just need to attain bootstraps which are not attainable, whatsoever.)

      1. (Lastly, as to those Cancer Blessings, not to even mention – when one on Medicaid actually attains any ‘treatment’ – all of those humble homes, many owned for decades upon decades, some for over a century, by hardworking poverty ridden people, which are virtually stolen by State Governments under the Medicaid “Estate Recovery “Rules””.)

  14. You hit the nail on the head, Nancy. I find that this is especially true when treatment ends and you are just expected to get back to it, not talk about cancer, and move on. How exactly is that possible when you are having side effects from meds, residual effects from treatment, and you just spent the last year of your life in living hell? If you spent the last year on an extended trip to Paris, would people expect that you wouldn’t talk about it?

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