On being positive

Keep on smiling!

Keep on smiling!

Something that my boyfriend and I have heard many, many times over the last seven months is all about the importance of being positive.

I am sure that having a positive attitude towards cancer treatment and recovery makes a huge difference, and that negativity is very unhelpful. However, I wonder whether sometimes the really helpful messages can get a little bit lost amongst all of the positive reinforcement.

Having thought very carefully about this, I’ve come up with a theory on where positivity is vital, and where it is not so helpful. Please note that this is entirely MY opinion; no doubt other people will find other approaches preferable. I’m by no means saying that this is gospel, just that it is something that I’ve found comfort in.

I’ve struggled somewhat to find the words to convey exactly what I mean.   Hopefully, this post does read as it is intended though – not as a message of doom, gloom and pessimism, but rather a tribute to the best sort of positivity.

When being realistic wins

 Throughout this process we have been to many appointments where we’ve received scan or test results, or had updates on treatment plans and approaches. Sometimes the news has been largely expected, though there have been a fair amount of unpleasant surprises.

Updating friends and family on news can be a significant part of digesting it yourself. Often, we find ourselves mainly feeling numb and disconnected following an appointment, needing time to consider what we’ve just been told and the implications of it.

Emily McDowell's Empathy Cards range hit the nail on the head.

Emily McDowell’s Empathy Cards range hit the nail on the head.

However, this is when people’s natural urge to ‘find the positive’ seems to kick in. This is admirable and I can entirely understand why anyone (myself included!) wants to do it on hearing scary health-related news. But I have realised that occasionally it is this relentless positivity that can put me off sharing news sometimes. Because I don’t necessarily want to be pressed into feeling positive about something which is rubbish – and we all know it. Sometimes the best response is barely any response. Yes, it’s crap. And yes, I’ll deal with it. But let’s really understand what we’re dealing with next before trying to rose-tint it too much.

I’m shortly going to have an MRI scan to check progress from my chemoradiotherapy treatment to date. In discussion with my wonderful clinical psychologist, I decided to question the consultant in my weekly appointment a week before the scan, to check what the possible outcomes might be. A purely positive approach might preclude such questions – is opening yourself up to facing news which could be worse than necessary a negative view? However, after some discussion, I came to the conclusion that this is realism, not negativity. The worst appointments have been the ones where we’ve gone in totally unprepared and then been served up something unexpected and left to flounder slightly. Knowing what could be round the corner, but then being able to discard the irrelevant options as soon as the results are known feels much more helpful.

So we will go into the next appointment with some ideas of what the options are and having been able to prepare ourselves for the next stage. And then we will be realistic about what that means and how we will deal with it in a positive way. Forcing positives immediately almost just makes things seem even more gloomy, as they are usually superficial at best, and just plain untrue at worst.

When being positive wins

In spite of everything I’ve said above, I strongly believe in the power of positivity – as long as it’s in the right context.

Once we have dealt with the realism of what is coming up, we can concentrate on finding real, tangible positives to focus on. For us, that has recently come in the form of plans for what to do next.

Louise Wisson's aspirational messages are a great boost.

Louise Wisson’s aspirational messages are a great boost.

Some examples:

  • Get rid of cancer
  • Keep up the blog
  • Get back into yoga
  • Go away on several holidays
  • Move house
  • Get a dog (currently a puggle)
  • Take some courses
  • Start a business

Thinking about these things gives me lots to ponder, research and work on whenever I can in the short-term (often in the sleepless 4 – 7 am window), without having actual pressure to get anything done. They are a brilliant, healthy set of goals and reasons to be very positive about what we’re aiming for on the other side of all of this tedium.

I think what I’m trying to say is this: it’s excellent to be out there looking for the positives, and having positive goals and exciting ideas to drive toward are undoubtedly helping to speed my recovery and keep both of our chins up. But that doesn’t mean that every single scenario and conversation needs to be milked for tenuous ‘positives’ – sometimes it is important to just take a deep breath and understand what is really happening.

Caroline x

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7 thoughts on “On being positive

  1. Thank you for your right-thinking reflections. My own thoughts about ‘positivity’ have been forged in a crucible of never ending ‘what next?”s. Over the years, I’ve parted company with most of the bits that designate me as a female: two ruptured ectopic pregnancies (good-by left ovary and fallopian tube; it’s been fun, right fallopian!); so long, right ovary (cancer); farewell, uterus (cancer; pointless anyway). Sayonara, children that might have been. Open heart surgery. More open heart surgery. Pacemaker and defibrillator, on which I’m totally dependent. Heart failure and feeling like drowning without even being in the sea. Next up: dx of hepatic tumours (great!), and high-risk heart surgery in early September. When anyone dares to suggest that I ‘look for the positive’, my thoughts are two-fold: You are an idiot. You have never, ever confronted your own mortality. It’s like your worst-dressed acquaintance complimenting you on a new frock. (What do YOU know?) You are I are cared for by the best professionals in the best teaching hospitals in the country. (Thank you, King’s College, Guy’s, St. Thomas.) I place my faith in their honesty and skill and compassion. And in myself. I am still here. Relentless. Dogged, Head down. Never looking sideways or back. Fearful at times but paddling like crazy. Calling on my inner samurai. Sometimes I run the odds. Like when I am on a full-loaded 747 about to take off on my zilllionth long-haul. In a storm. hmmm. That said, as someone for whom the Energizer Bunny is a role-model, I believe that there is more oomph left in my personal power-pack. I am truly grateful for the quietly focused support of my siblings and, especially, my [fourth] husband. (I am relentlessly positive about finding love!) They are too insightful to wave pom-poms like demented cheerleaders. Like you, I have plans and goals. Obvs. getting through the next x months. More concretely, beginning another M.A. (“The History of the Book”). Induction week begins Sept. 21. I will be there, somehow. Absolutely. On that score, I owe some thanks to your Father, from whom I received an M.A. in 2010. He provided one of the references. I am also indebted to him for alerting me to your blog. As a reflection of your spirit and your thinking, it is brilliant. Lastly, I am reminded of a [heavily paraphrased] quote: ‘Life. When I finally let it go, it will have claw marks all over it.’

    Most importantly, what the hell is a ‘puggle’?

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    • Thanks so much for your comments, Chris – I’m so glad that my writing has resonated with you and am grateful to hear about your story and approach. Good to know we are both clinging on with all claws!!! Oh, and a puggle is a cross pug/beagle – I’m not a dog fan to be honest, but they do look super cute!

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  2. I remember when Fred was in the early stages of treatment, the feeling I would get whenever a doctor came in the room with test results – huge tension and deep breath, and desperate for them to tell me any scary news very quickly so I could get on with processing it. We were lucky as all the news apart from initial diagnosis was positive. It took me months to ask his doctor about what the future would hold for Fred as I knew on that particular day I was feeling stronger (he was also a doctor that we had seen at the very beginning and he was so reassuring and I trusted him completely.) There are good days and bad days. Mostly good – but there are definitely days where I feel my thoughts drawn towards the “not so positive.” It’s very natural, and you are right – relentless positivity isn’t realistic. Sending you lots of love and healing thoughts, Rose xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Rose. I know what you mean about wanting to get the news asap – but find it can take a really long time to actually understand what has just been said! Thanks for reading and I’m glad I could identify with some of what you have felt too. Lots of love xxx

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  3. Pingback: Don’t know what to say? | Baking Better

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