|A solar eclipse|
When my diagnostic mammogram was abnormal and I felt like I was slammed against a wall, I was once again blitzkrieged with the positive-thinking mantra.
While waiting for my biopsy results, I felt despair. Yet, individuals tried to cajole me -- in an upbeat sort of way -- to be positive.
And, after listening to all the "think positive" mumbo jumbo, I discovered I was positive after all -- for breast cancer, that is.
Maybe if I thought more positively, that pesky breast cancer would've just magically disappeared or never appeared in the first place. Adding insult to physical and emotional injury, I kept hearing the whole think-positive garbage throughout my treatment. And this verbal garbage isn't even the biodegradable kind, for it stays with you forever.
I remember my very first chemotherapy treatment. I went into it with an upbeat, take-charge attitude -- determined to fight the good fight, determined to be a warrior, determined to win the battle against my breast cancer. I had what well-wishers would term a positive state of mind.
Instead, I ended up sick on the floor that very evening, feeling like I was imploding, and sobbing. Treatment had already brought me down to my knees, and I wasn't even up to my knees in treatment yet.
I guess I hadn't been upbeat enough.
The language of positive thinking that inundates our culture is just plain harmful to those whose lives are forever altered by cancer -- regardless of the patient's outcome.
I want to distinguish between the "think positive" culture and the idea of having hope or optimism. A hopeful, optimistic attitude that comes from within is a great thing. After all, as a patient, I was hopeful that the treatments would work, and I was guardedly optimistic that I might eventually pick up the tattered pieces of my shattered life. I hoped that one day I would be able to birth a child (it didn't happen, but at least I had hope). That seed of optimism came from within me.
However, the "think positive" culture is an external source that tries to define the afflicted person's reality and therefore undermines his/her psychological well-being. By telling patients to think positively, our society is telling us what to think: that we are responsible for our outcomes.
Therefore, if we happen to "survive" cancer (whatever that means), those who live can be credited with positive thinking as the reason they lived. Those who die from the disease....well, they just didn't think positively enough.
Now that's a mighty heavy burden -- and a damaging one -- whatever the side of the cancer spectrum one is in.
And it's some pretty heavy nonsense, too.
To those who tell others in a medical crisis to think positively, think again. External positive-thinking mantras harm patients. Telling cancer patients how to think -- i.e., that a sunny disposition and attitude are in order -- need to remember that sunny days are not all they are cracked up to be.
Just ask a solar eclipse.
For a related post see Breast Cancer and the Blame Game.
Have you or a loved one ever been told to "think positively"?
Please feel free to share any insights you might have on this topic. I really want to know your opinions and experiences.
To obtain these postings regularly, please subscribe to this blog by clicking the orange subscribe button. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.