Cancer Survivor – No to Positive Thinking

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Cancer Survivor Says No to Positive Thinking But Yes to Humour. “You got cancer because you’re too tense! You need to relax!” 

For the sake of his reputation, I won’t identify the man who bellowed that comment at me. However, shouting at someone to calm them down is guaranteed to have the opposite effect. At the time I was dealing with the double whammy of an unfaithful husband and being diagnosed with breast cancer – for the second time. I have a mutated BRCA gene that makes me more susceptible to the disease.

There were 3 mottoes I took to heart:

  1. After infidelity, the best revenge is to get past the need for revenge. It’s a toxic emotion. I wanted to put my life energy into planning how to move forward rather than plotting vengeance.
  2. Information is power: whether investigating cancer treatment options or finding out about my rights as regards divorce, I embraced my inner anal journalist to be fully informed before making decisions.
  3. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, and I’d much rather laugh. I tried to find absurd humor in every situation I was faced with. 

Humour plays a big part in my life. As well as being a humourist writer, I’ve also tried my hand at stand-up comedy. Numerous studies have shown laughter has both psychological and physiological benefits. For me, anything done by the Monty Python team works every time. As a former BBC reporter, I had prided myself on always being up-to-date with world affairs, but when I was doing cancer treatment, I rarely bothered to keep up with the news because it’s all bad news as good news is usually too boring to cover. Instead, I focused on comedies. 

Seeing humour in your everyday existence isn’t the same thing as always cultivating a positive attitude. That’s hard to manufacture. I can think of one or two people who sternly insisted I must stay positive when I was dealing with my breast cancer who themselves manifested bucket loads of negativity when problems arose in their own lives. Yes, do whatever you can to keep your spirits up but don’t ever feel bad about feeling bad. Each side of the positive thinking debate has research to support it. Some studies show a positive attitude helps cancer recovery, while others indicate that positive thinking doesn’t improve the outcome. It’s impossible to be positive all the time, especially faced with setbacks like a failing marriage, breast cancer and being in pain. 

But laughter can take your mind off your difficulties. American political journalist Norman Cousins was immobile and in extreme pain from a condition called ankylosing spondylitis, that doctors thought he would never recover from. He watched stuff like Marx Brothers films and Candid Camera and discovered that just ten minutes of induced hearty laughter would produce about two hours of painless sleep. Eventually he became almost completely pain-free. 

Breast cancer is the most common female cancer worldwide. In the United States and Britain, for example, one out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival statistics for early stage non metastatic breast cancer are close to 100 percent, but that being said, cancer is a crapshoot. I’m not a doctor, so I’d never want to tell someone else how they should deal with their cancer, but that didn’t stop people from bombarding me with unsolicited advice. Some insisted the chemo and radiation I underwent was toxic and wouldn’t work. Others declared the alternative therapies I chose to do as well were pure quackery. Then I was berated for turning down mastectomies and choosing lumpectomies both times I had breast cancer. I was concerned about the serious side effects some women I knew had suffered from breast implants. I did not want to stay flat as some patients are choosing to do after mastectomies to avoid having to deal with breast reconstruction. Did I make the right decisions? All I can say is, to quote Monty Python, “I’m not dead yet!” I’ve even got the Spamalot badge to prove it.

If I could wave a magic wand and make the cancer and infidelity never have happened, would I do it? You might be surprised to hear me say no. I do not regret having gone through the experience, bleak and difficult though it was. Regret is not about the past—it is about the present. I am happy with my life as it is now. If I had not gone through the past exactly as it was, my here and now would be different. 

Both my new comic self-help memoir, My Wild Ride: How to Thrive After Breast Cancer and Infidelity, and my first book, Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not, examine how to deal with adversity by using it as a catalyst to raise you up rather than be crushed. My aim is to inspire ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances to find ways to make their lives fulfilling, however long or short their time on this earth might be.

2 COMMENTS

  1. It takes a tremendous amount of courage for this author to share with others what she has personally endured, and for her to say that she would not try to erase the personal ordeals she went through, speaks volumes about her inner strength and fortitude of spirit. Her outlined precepts seem to very aptly provide an invaluable resource for how to instill an inspiring whole person interior tool set to help assist in overcoming what would be mind numbing fear in the face of this kind of adversity. I know this information would help both my parents and most of my friends find a light to light to live by. It is wonderful to see an author of this caliber, trying to help others through her research, humor, empathy, and generosity of spirit.

    – C. Appel (USNR)

    • Thank you for your kinds words of support! However, I know many others who have had to cope with far worse circumstances than mine yet have managed to come out stronger at the other end. It reminds me of an old story from China that I mentioned in my first book, “Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not.” A group of Chinese women recounted their tales of woe and put a pebble out onto the table to represent those woes. when the women were asked to change pebbles, they all took their own pebble back. The moral of the story? Better the troubles you know than the ones you don’t!

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