Staying Hopeful vs. Staying Positive

Like most of you, I am struggling every day with being a blood cancer patient in the middle of a pandemic. Some days are better than others. Most days there’s at least one thing I’ve read -- or I’ve felt -- or I’ve imagined -- that makes me anxious.

One way I have been coping is by keeping up my blog, sharing my experiences and feelings, and offering my readers any coping tips that I find. I know they are all feeling a lot of the same things I’m feeling.

Last week, as I finished a post, I closed by writing “Stay positive!” and I stopped myself and deleted it. I’m not a big fan of that phrase.

The problem with positivity

Now, there is nothing wrong with being positive. I think we should all be that way. And honestly, positivity comes fairly easy to me. Despite my current situation, I have always been a positive person.

But “Stay Positive!” often shows up on lists of things that you shouldn’t say to cancer patients. Sometimes, people give that advice because they are talking to a cancer patient who seems down, and they don’t know what else to say. Or maybe they just can’t handle the fact that someone they know has cancer. The problem is, telling a cancer patient to stay positive can deny their reality and minimize their feelings.

Instead, stay hopeful

What do I like to say instead? “Stay hopeful.” That’s what I ended up writing at the end of my blog post.

There’s a difference between staying positive and staying hopeful. For me, staying positive denies the bad things. Staying hopeful acknowledges them. “Hope” is a wish that things will get better. But for things to get better, you have to recognize that things aren’t great at the moment.

Right now is the perfect time to recognize that. Not just because we are in the middle of difficult times. But also because it’s spring, and spring means daffodils.

Finding hope in my springtime garden

I’ve written before about the daffodils in my backyard. Daffodils, those beautiful yellow flowers that come up in early spring, are often associated with cancer. They are seen as a symbol of hope. They pop up when the grass around them is still brown, and sometimes still covered in snow.

In my backyard, the daffodils are in an old shade garden. A few years ago, a squirrel buried a blackberry in that garden, and today, it has turned into a wild blackberry patch. Besides making excellent jams, the blackberries add to my sense of hope every spring.

As the daffodils poke their way through the cold ground, they find themselves in enemy territory, surrounded by thick brown canes full of thorns. This is a picture I took a few days ago:

Flowers growing in a garden

Hope and realism

Despite the thorns, the daffodils come every year. And the thorns somehow make the flowers all that much more beautiful.

I didn’t ask for the blackberries, and I didn’t ask for the cancer. But there they are anyway.

The least I can do is acknowledge them. You can’t pick blackberries without acknowledging the thorns.

And so I face cancer the same way. Not denying it.

But facing it with hope.

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