Not a cancer diagnosis goes by without someone saying, “Keep a positive attitude. That makes all the difference.”   Well… no.  Having health insurance, access to good doctors, a strong support system, the means for self-care, the ability to self-advocate, and getting a form of breast cancer that is treatable… THOSE make all the difference.

A woman who suffers debilitating side effects or dies, her attitude wasn’t positive enough?

I don’t really believe that most people mean to blame the victim. Yes, there are exploiters out to boost bank accounts and fragile egos, but for the most part, I think it’s a lack of clear thinking.  If we tell a woman to stay positive, where is she to go with her negative thoughts? I guarantee you they are there — dark and scary and ugly. It’s not the sum total of who she is, but the darkness is real and needs an outlet.

Also Read: Mother: A PoemSelf-limiting Beliefs

I’ve noticed a backlash just as silencing. If you don’t show appropriate levels of anger, you are a bubble-headed flake.

I deeply resent these culture wars and the way they distract us from the goal.  A discussion is good. Disparaging another, or even deciding what another person’s truth is, is not. Being human is alienating enough, let’s not add to it.  So in the interest of bridging, here are some of my most unpopular thoughts.

  • I had, and sometimes still have, bad days trying to cope with cancer and its fallout. But for the most part, my life is pretty flipping awesome.
  • Dealing with my cancer diagnosis forced me to strip my life down to the bones.  I like it better this way.  (please note: I get credit for that, not cancer.)
  • Post cancer, I live my life more deliberately and with more conscious appreciation.
  • I had a lot of pain during the last half of my radiation treatments. Other than that, my year of treatment carried very few side effects.
  • I lost some feeling under my right armpit from lymph node removal. Scar tissue can be painful, limiting my ability to do side planks in yoga. My pectoral muscle was compromised by mastectomy, so some arm exercises can be difficult.  Not impossible.  I have no other long-term physical side effects.
  • I don’t complain much about my diagnosis.  It’s no more and no less than a part of my reality.  I try to make an impact in the world and find excessive hand-wringing to be counter-productive.
  • I am an optimist, which means I believe in a universe that is predominately benevolent.  It doesn’t mean that I ignore the obvious downside of cancer, but it does keep me moving through life without falling off the cliff of despondency.
  • I don’t believe there is a “right” answer. The simple and complicated truth is that we need to be honest, we need to examine our own lives and make corrections as needed. As William Stafford says, “it is important that awake people be awake…the darkness around us is deep.”