Several years ago, Kevin, a work colleague was diagnosed with cancer. He came to me, still in the deer-in-the-headlights stage of dealing with the news, because he knew that I had had breast cancer and just needed to talk.
I mostly just listened, but I remember giving Kevin this one piece of advice: I told him that he shouldn’t be afraid of his emotions and spending some time on ‘the dark side’ (as I like to call it). People were going to tell him to 'just be positive’ but he shouldn't try to live up to the expectations of others.
Not that I think that positive thinking is a bad thing, but I told Kevin that my experience was that the pressure to be strong for yourself, as well as for everyone else, can just be too much to take sometimes. Since my own diagnosis, I’ve needed to spend some time grieving to really put things in perspective. It’s a natural response to having a serious illness and fighting it can sometimes just make it worse.
Sue Hendler wrote about advice from others to ‘be positive’ in her last column in the Kingston Whig Standard. There are some interesting comments from readers posted in response to her column. I tried to post my own comment but couldn’t figure out how (damn technology!), so I’m posting it here:
I’m not surprised at the different responses to Sue’s latest column. The emotional dark side of living with cancer can be uncomfortable, or even painful, and we want to pretend that if we just stay positive, everything will be OK. Of course, people are well meaning when they say to ‘be strong’ and ‘think positive’, but it’s not realistic or even healthy to try to live that way all the time. Sue is showing her own strength and courage by sharing her feelings and experiences in her columns. Fear, sadness and anger are all natural emotions when dealing with a serious illness. I find it interesting that the last commenter doesn’t seem to be aware that some of those same emotions come through in what she/he wrote. People who love Sue will not turn away just because she is honest enough to say what is helpful to her and what is not.
If you would like to read other columns by Sue Hendler, click on her name in the labels below.