Friday, July 16, 2010

From Passivity to Action

There's a public misconception going around. It's about me. And I need to clear up this misconception in order to better help you.

During my public speaking engagements and through written comments about my blog column, people are often awe-struck at how assertive I am to those in the medical field. I've been admired for my fearlessness and boldness, as well as many other attributes I'd love to have.

That's right: I'd love to have these qualities. I started my breast cancer journey as a meek, passive patient. And truth be told, I have always found self-advocacy really unpleasant. I usually am afraid when I walk into a doctor's office. There's this inner part of me that is frightened to assert my needs. When I fought for 10 months to have the surgery I so desperately needed, I was afraid. And sad. And demoralized.

But I am courageous, which to me means that I am fearful, but I act on my behalf anyway. Sometimes I hit a brick wall, but most of the time, I garner respect from medical personnel.

It's a myth that only fearless, brash people can effectively advocate for themselves. It's a myth that you have to be outgoing to tell medical staff what's what. It's a myth that having courage means being fearless.

My advice is this: tap deep within you and act.

You can be afraid, but you still need to act on your behalf. Go through the motions.

Be the ordinary person who does the extraordinary.

That's what I do.

Note to Caregivers: If you are caring for a person who somehow is too afraid or unable to speak up for him/herself, please take my advice and summon up the courage to act on his/her behalf. Is it difficult? Yes. But not speaking up for the patient can have detrimental consequences. Be courageous. You, too, can be the ordinary person who does the extraordinary.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She writes about a potpourri of topics, including motherhood and her Chinese adoption experience at, and her cat Hemi blogs at Beth teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris University in the Chicago area. She has a guest posting on The World's Strongest Librarian at can be contacted at and Photobucket


  1. Thank you for clarifying this issue, Beth. I've always been too fearful to stand up for myself and ask the hard questions to medical professionals. However, through reading your blogs, I have found the courage to at least try to speak up if I feel that I am not being heard, or if a doctor is moving too quickly to a snap diagnosis.

    Thank you for pointing out that it's not only those who are fearless in life that can advocate for themself or others... those of us that are a bit fearful have the ability to do so, too.

    It's all about choosing to act - And I choose to be extraordinary!!

  2. Thanks, Judy, for your honest, helpful feedback. I'm glad I could help you!

  3. Yes, it is so important to be your own advocate, and so challenging to do so. It sometimes seems easier to sit back and trust your doctors, but I've learned that the survivors who do well and beat the odds are not passive patients. I could kick myself everytime I didn't question a doctor even when I knew deep down something was wrong...or I had a solution they pooh-poohed. Thanks for being a voice for all of us.

  4. Thank you for your insightful comment Tami. You are so right about the need to question doctors.