The Perils And Pitfalls Of Positive Thinking .

I have often wondered why it is that as cancer patients we are continually told (no doubt by well meaning people I know ) that we MUST be Positive , I’ve thought long and hard about this in my own yrs of cancer treatments and have come to realize that amongst all the illnesses and all the disease in this world, it seems Cancer is the “only” disease that the Positive Thinking mantra exists , I have never heard of people with diabetes being told to be positive, I have never heard of people with MS being told to be positive, in fact I have never heard of people with any other illness being told to be Positive, so why as Cancer patients are we exhorted by others to be Positive?
Being told to constantly be Positive shuts down communication, it closes down conversations at a time when we need to express our inner most worries and fears, more importantly we need others to acknowledge those worries and fears as very real, we need understanding not dismissing of what its really like having to live with cancer and the uncertainties in our futures that it all brings,

Its a very lonely place having cancer at times, if we cannot express our true emotions in our darkest moments because we always feel that we have to put on a brave face and must have that “fighting spirit” to make things easier for others then its makes all this cancer rubbish so much more difficult for any of us to bear , I really hate many of the ill thought out words in cancer world, but I think one of the most unhelpfull and irritating words (to me anyway) is the "you must be positive " mantra ,because really it is just a word used by others to make them feel better , it doesn’t make ME feel better , I like many others here have been having a pretty thought time of things of late ,with a recon gone wrong ,a serious life threatening infection which resulted in sepsis and going into toxic shock, a large open wound in my chest , which had to be packed every other day , 3 further breast surgeries added to my previous 2 breast surgeries ,and 4 hospital admissions all in 3 mths ,its truly been horrific ,and the worst part for me has been seeing part of my body just rotting away in front of my eyes, no one should have to see that and it has hit me very hard emotionally, it has finally resulted in me having to have a Mastectomy last Monday , but I was still being told by "some " well meaning people in hospital only this week (not friends and family I might add) that I must be Positive, Well , S*d being Positive, I’m really not right now and to be honest I am ALLOWED to feel the way that I do
Please ladies don’t get me wrong, I’m NOT a negative person in any way , I live my life to the full and I just get on with what life has thrown at me, but SOMETIMES we all NEED to cry, SOMETIMES we all NEED to just shout and scream , SOMETIMES we all NEED just to let it all out ,and SOMETIMES we all need to just express our darkest fears and our very deepest emotions, SO PLEASE , to all you people living in non cancerworld ,THINK before you use the Positive mantra to a cancer patient, it isn’t helpfull , Yes sometimes it may help us in our day to day lives , but it doesn’t make us feel better , and it certainly wont and cannot cure our cancers , all it does is makes this journey much harder for us , Its OK not to feel POSITVE , personally i much prefer the word “Hopefull” or “Constructive Copeing” as expressed by Dr Peter Harvey in this article that i can relate too, and to be honest what is so wrong with NOT always feeling Positive anyway?

Thanks for letting me offload ,we all need to sometimes ,best wishes to all

L x

Hi cornishgirl, I agree on the non-positive. There’s a book by Susan Sontag, highly intellectual of course, called Illness as Metaphor. She had breast cancer, and in fact she managed to get a huge amount of chemotherapy and died later of some other form of cancer resulting from the chemo - but I digress - she wrote about how cancer is (wrongly) associated with repressed feelings. She also found that longer ago, tuberculosis was regarded in the same way. I remenmber reading the article a couple of years ago.

Halle bloody lujah Linda. Massive (((hugs))) for you xx

Just read this article and think it should be included in any package of care, so that we can give it too our friends and families so that they can gain an insight into what it is like. it will also help them to know what helps. Thankyou cornishgirl.x

Gosh cornishgirl that really was a cry from the heart and so eloquently put. I am sorry I had no idea you had been through such a rough time lately and do hope you are starting to come out the right side of it. Sending massive (((((((((((((((-))))))))))))))) to you.



Hi all… going to put my tin hat on…


I agree with you that we have to be allowed to feel how we feel… no-one can tell us how we OUGHT to flippin well feel… 2 years back at work and every so often something occurs which makes me wobble massively, and I have learnt to allow myself to do so, and to process (by talking) until I can move on again…


But I have to say that while I was going through the mill, I CHOSE to find something to be grateful for every day… even if I felt negative and rubbish… Some days it was easy, cause flowers arrived, or a friend, or… some days it was hard, and went along the lines of “I’m fed up with feeling like poo, I’m fed up with everything tasting horrible, I’m fed up with my mouth being sore, I hate having no hair, BUT I’m not as fed up as I would be if they told me there wasn’t any treatment…”   And the reason I’m risking saying this on this thread, is that, once I got to the “other end” (do we ever?)  I realised that making that choice, finding SOMETHING in each day to be grateful for, made a big difference to the journey, and how I coped with it all.  I think that’s different from “thinking positive”, and I’m certainly not saying there is anything to be grateful for in having cancer (or losing your daughter - can’t imagine how awful that might be, my heart goes out to you)… but we can learn to see a gift in each day… sunshine… birds…  for me, it was a matter of choice, not feeling.  Often the feelings were on a different page, but the choices add up and make a difference.  I’m sorry if I’m not making any sense…  Jane


A friend passed me an article which I have now lost but it went something like this:  Imagine the person who’s ill in the centre of a series of rings going out from her like the layers of an onion.  The outer layers are people she doesn’t know very well.  The layers next to her are her family and close friends and each layer gets progressively less intimate with her.  The point is that the care and listening should be going from the outside towards the person in the middle.  The complaining and off loading should be going in the other direction.  This is a good model for working out what to say to people who are seriously ill.  Unfortunately we “patients” tend to be expected to be cheerful and even sometimes to entertain our visitors!  This blocks off effective communication of what we need. 


On the other hand, I had to ask myself quite early on with cancer how my illness could be useful to other people, how the experience could improve things.  I am still exploring this and am helped by having three daughters who need to have a lot of my experiences shared with them because they may have this diagnosis themselves.  Another thing which occurred to me was that I had this sterotype of a “sick person” who doesn’t do anything and who is eternally grateful.  I have spent most of my life confronting stereotypes, and I have had a brilliant time with this one.  This sick person does risky things and makes demands on others.  She also tries to give back a lot of what she gets.  She shares things which many people consider inappropriate and makes jokes about her condition to the discomfort of her carers(because she can!). 


In my case when people tell me how well I look and how positive I sound I think they are expressing surprise that I am animated.  In myself I am hoping to turn this animation into joy and peace.    And like Jane, I am working on each little thing at a time.  For me that is deeply positive. But I am not going to do it to please them in the outside world!