It's OK to Have a Bad Day

The best advice I ever got from another cancer patient was this:

It’s OK to have a bad day.

As cancer patients, we all have those days. Our minds can get hooked on something negative, and it gets the better of us. Sometimes we need to be reminded that bad days happen, and we are allowed to let them happen.

I had one of those days last week. My oncologist moved out of state in May, and it was time for me to find a new oncologist. I called the cancer hospital nearby, and my call was transferred between offices three times. Then I was told I couldn’t see the doctor I wanted to see because he doesn’t treat lymphoma patients. (The hospital website says he does.) A five-minute call took over an hour. I hung up, frustrated. Usually, it would be a small annoyance, but it got to me, and I was in a funk for the rest of the day. I couldn’t get cancer out of my mind, and my thoughts drifted to lots of bad scenarios.

The problem with positivity

As cancer patients, we get told a lot that we should be positive. When I was first diagnosed, and when I went through treatment, people would tell me all the time, “Stay positive!” It’s one of those things that people say when they don’t know what else to say to a cancer patient. They mean well. I think it makes them feel less helpless.

The problem is, some days we just don’t feel like being positive. For whatever reason, we wake up and know it’s going to be a bad day. But we are given that message of positivity so often that we can end up feeling guilty. We’ve shown weakness. We’ve dropped our guard. We think we let ourselves -- and other people -- down.

Now we feel bad, and we feel guilty on top of that. It’s turned into a doubly bad day.

The full advice

Here’s the full advice that my fellow cancer patient gave me. I think it’s worth sharing:

Of course you should try to stay positive. But it’s OK to have a bad day. We all have days when we don’t have the emotional energy to face the world. We’d rather just stay in bed. So when you have one of those days, do what feels right. If you want to stay in bed all day and eat ice cream and watch old movies, then do just that.

And if you wake up the next day and you want to do it again? Well, now it’s time to talk to someone.

That someone might be a caregiver, or a friend, or the folks in a support group. Just talking might help you work through whatever is getting you down. Sometimes a sympathetic ear can make a bad day better.

But if a bad day turns out to be three bad days, then maybe it’s time to get help, maybe more help than a sympathetic ear or a dish of ice cream can provide. If that’s the case, your oncologist or hospital might be able to tell you about mental health services that are available. The important thing is to recognize when that one bad day might be turning into something more.

Stay positive. But...

So, yes, stay positive. As cancer patients, we should remember to look for the good things in our lives. Positivity is healthy.

But just as important, let yourself have a bad day. That’s healthy for you, too.

The night of my bad day, my wife brought home ice cream, and we snuggled and watched Netflix.

The next day was better.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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