Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Tyranny of Positive Thinking

It's always there, in the back of my mind. Although I've been breast cancer free for 1 and 1/2 years, deep in the recesses of my mind is the thought that it may come back. In my case there is a very good chance of recurrence within the first 4 years. I did all I can do medically with the best professional team I could find, and now I continue to take care of myself with diet, exercise and ways to try to reduce that risk, but lurking just beneath the surface the threat remains. Even after the initial devastation of surgery and treatment, having cancer is painful and exhausting. Some concerned persons are anxious to see me return to my old self, not realizing there is no way to go back to my pre-cancer self. One is never the same again. And it is a matter of biology whether the breast cancer returns or not. Either the chemotherapy worked or it didn't.

There is nothing more annoying than some well-meaning, but totally ignorant person, whether parent or sibling, lover or friend, telling me all I need to do to be "cured" is to exhibit a positive attitude and pray to god. That may make them feel better, but no amount of positive thinking on my part or prayer by entire congregations will change anything that's already happened or alter the outcome. Again, the treatment worked or it didn't. It is, however, possible to buy time with medical treatment and a healthy post treatment lifestyle; possible, but no guarantee. If, as a post-treatment cancer survivor, I am doing that, then I am already exhibiting an extremely positive attitude. Some days are better than others when there are side-effects from treatment to manage or adjust to for years or even permanently. So to expect me to accommodate and take care of others by denying my own reality with a chirpy "positive" attitude and prayers of thanks for a complete healing that may or may not have occurred is, in my opinion, abusive. It may make others who say they care feel better if I never talk about it, but it may also prove fatal to myself if I am not aware of how I am really feeling and available for follow-up medical monitoring. It will occasionaly come up in a conversation because it is such a huge reference point in my life, part of my experience, and very physical existence. Believe me, no one would be happier if I could turn back time and make it all go away.


MargaretJ said...

I was referred to your site and visual diary by Hester Hill, who runs the breast cancer support groups at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. I too am a survivor...for now. This entry rang so try to me, and I have practically yelled at some friends saying, you don't understand. I'll never be that person again!" I understand theri fear for me and their wishes that I continue to survive, but cancer did changeme forever. I am grateful though to my breast cancer sisters who I would never had met otherwise. I'm working through all those "bucket list" items because we never know. I do wish you the best for today.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I too believe that societal pressure to feel positive at all costs is damaging if it doesn’t allow the person to truly confront their fears.

Maine Artist said...

Thank you for your comments, Margaret and bbc. It is important to be able to express one's own reality, and not defer to accommodate someone elses inability to confront their fears about your disease.