an annoyed woman with her back to a sun

Staying Positive, Being Honest

As I think back upon all the things people have said to me since my diagnosis, ‘Stay positive!’ is one of the most common. It is often said with the best of intentions, but in the face of such fear and uncertainty, those two simple words can feel extremely dismissive.

What does 'staying positive' mean, anyway?

When we think of a positive person, we often think of someone who:

  • is optimistic, cheerful, and hopeful
  • focuses on the good in a situation
  • sees opportunity in the midst of hardship
  • embraces what is right, instead of what is or could go wrong
  • feels grateful for what (s)he has, instead of wanting what (s)he does not

We all like being around positive people, and we know life is more enjoyable when we are positive, too.  But it doesn't always come easily amidst a life-threatening diagnosis.

Staying positive may feel impossible

When I was told I had multiple myeloma, I saw my life flash before my eyes and assumed that all the good I had ever known was over. I was in shock and overwhelmed with fear and sadness. All those ‘stay positive!’ comments made me feel even more negative, misunderstood, and alone.

How was I supposed to stay positive when facing an incurable cancer along with radiation, surgeries, a stem cell transplant, and years of chemotherapy? How dare someone who hasn’t faced something similar tell me how to think and act and be!

And I had stayed positive after breaking my hip, even after the suspicious-looking MRI. I positively assured myself that it was not cancer - that it was simply a benign growth. And I was positively wrong.

Positivity means acceptance

True positivity requires honesty and acceptance. It means fully acknowledging the situation you are in and keeping your focus on the good, the hopeful, and the optimistic. It means embracing opportunities for self-growth while encountering the unimaginable. It means helping and encouraging others, even when we are feeling hopeless ourselves. It means allowing love, not fear, to dictate the unknown path ahead.

It also means honoring the whole, wide range of emotions. We can accept ourselves fully for who we are and where we are at, while not losing sight of where we hope to be. Sometimes it means slowing down and just breathing, feeling the fullness of what life has to offer and being present for all of it.

I’ve come a long way since my diagnosis two years ago. The initial fear and horror gradually eased into acceptance, hope, and optimism. For me, it has not so much been about staying in a positive place at all times. It has been more about finding my way back when I get thrown off course and allowing others to gently guide me there.

We need positive support

Just as those who care about us want us to be positive, we also need their positive support. The last thing we want is to feel badly for feeling bad. Feeling down or even outright depressed is a normal part of cancer, and we may need help moving through it. We, more than anyone, don’t want to hang out in the dark for too long and waste our precious remaining time on earth.

We did not choose to have cancer. We did not ask for the pain, loss, fatigue, and sickness. But we do want to be seen for our whole selves, honored for who we were before our diagnosis and loved and accepted for who we are now. And we are positively positive about that.

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