It is inevitable that, before too long, the canceree will find themselves exhorted to ‘think positively’ and ‘be strong’ in order to ‘beat the disease’. Looking on the bright side of life may make the canceree feel better emotionally and psychologically, of course; it can dilute the fear that cancer creates in people and it is much easier if your friend who has cancer is jolly and smiling, rather than despairing and tearful. But can a happy face and hope in the future cure cancer? I’m afraid not. And this belief also seems to imply – albeit accidentally – that those who don’t survive just didn’t think positively enough.
Even before my diagnosis, I thought it was strange how this language is only applied to cancer. One rarely hears the person with motor neurone disease, diabetes or multiple sclerosis being told that positive thinking will cure them. Cancer seems to be in a class of its own and those with the disease find themselves being addressed in a unique way, perhaps because people are just so frightened of it.
In general, I am a big fan of positivity and, in the past, I have been accused of possessing Pollyanna-esque tendencies. But having cancer is a scary, life-changing experience that can test your body to its limits and take your mind to the darkest places imaginable. I make every effort to remain strong and positive but I reserve the right to be weak and negative from time to time.
Every time I sit down to write a post on this blog, I spend a few moments thinking of two special women; two friends of mine who both sadly died from breast cancer in the last couple of years.
Jane was a single mum with a two and a half year old daughter when she was diagnosed. She amazed her doctors by living for seven years from her diagnosis, far longer than had been expected. When Jane knew her illness was terminal, she worked tirelessly to create a future for her daughter without her in it. I can think of no more painful task than that.
Gail was an inspirational woman, pure and simple. She worked as an immigration judge and a coroner. She changed so many people’s lives for the better. One of her colleagues wrote this wonderful tribute to her: In Memory of Gail Elliman. She was also on the threshhold of an exciting new chapter in her personal life.
Both these women had positivity running through their core; they were warriors; they fought like Boudicca to stay alive, but cancer doesn’t always give you that choice.