Saturday 25 November 2017

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Be Positive!

'A smile and a positive attitude may be helpful to healing, but not when it's forced and not when it masks our genuine distress.'

'Be positive!' It’s a phrase we often hear when we've been diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes, it's something we tell ourselves, sometimes it's the advice of well meaning friends. But what does it mean to stay positive in times of despair? How can we be ok with the times when we don't feel positive? These were some of the dilemmas we struggled with in this week's discussion.

Naz explained that when we block out unpleasantness we are at risk of damaging our well-being, whilst if we let it all in and dwell on negativity, we can feel we are becoming dragged down into depression. A balance is what we seek, and cognitive awareness and practices can help.

Apart from the primitive survival-seeking reactive brain, we do have some choice in how we deal with our emotions and our resilience gives us flexibility and helps us to achieve our happiness goals. Embracing sadness rather than pushing it away is key, and allowing ourselves to experience a full range of emotions is healthier than putting on a brave face and pretending we're fine when we are not. A smile and a positive attitude may be helpful to healing, but not when it's forced and not when it masks our genuine distress.

Our members, who have both secondary and primary breast cancer diagnoses, shared activities that help them feel better when distressed. Many and varied responses were given - long walks and baths, family, friends, hobbies, exercise, nature, pets, meditation, breathing exercises. But what emerged from this conversation was a deeper discussion about being authentic, acknowledging feelings and wanting to be real and honest about feeling less than chipper all the time. We aren't self-indulgent about our negative feelings and not one of us wrote about wallowing in self-pity. Some women look for a semblance of control (as having cancer takes this away from us) while others relax into whatever they are feeling and let it go. Some of us keep busy, others seek out peace and quiet.

A positive attitude is often expected of us by others, and of course there are times when we have to temporarily hide away our real feelings and get on with whatever we need to do. What we really struggle with is when it is implied that being positive will cure our cancer. It will not! This is especially true for women with secondary breast cancer, otherwise known as metastatic cancer, for whom treatment continues as a lifelong burden and for whom stability becomes the goal rather than cure. It is very hurtful and undermining to imply that we may have encouraged our illness to spread by not being positive enough.

Being outwardly positive can be a protective mechanism for our fear and vulnerability, but allowing the fear and sadness in also allows us to appreciate the positive in life.

We all cope in different ways according to our personalities, our preferences, our circumstances. What we must admire in all of the women who contributed is that they are working on discovering their negativity triggers and how best to deal with them. Even when bombarded with bad news and significant troubles, they go on. Support from others who understand is key.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a diagnosis of breast cancer and you would like to join our private group, please contact is by facebook message


Image credit: Buddha Doodles whose images are certain to lift the spirits!

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